One of the first steps with any reasonably sized web project is a simple Information Architecture (IA) exercise, known as a 'card sort'.
A what now? A card sort. It's jargon, and I hate that, so I thought it might be interesting to see one in practice to help explain what we actually do.
In this video (it lasts just over a minute, don't worry) you see me carry out a survey of the content in an existing site. Then I do a first pass at organising the content into logical, related groups. Then I get the team in for them to destroy my work and tell me how to do it better. (See the word 'blog' get written and rubbed out several times!) Finally, I draw out the whole thing for presentation to the client, using my favourite software ever, OmniGraffle Pro.
And the point would be?
By examining the content and functions of a proposed site we can make sure we group it in ways that make sense. For example, you might put the map near the contact form. There can be several ways to group things though, so it's complicated and fun sometimes - should we put hammers and screwdrivers together, and put screws with nails? Or put hammers with nails and screws with screwdrivers? Or both?
The card sort informs the next stage in the web design process, creating a site map, which in turn informs how the navigation might work. Good process is essential. If we were to dive right in to visual design we might come up with a cool looking menu that doesn't actually reflect a logical structure beneath the surface, which can lead to all sorts of usability problems down the line.
And we don't want that.