As part of our work with Derby City Council, we were asked to design a new information architecture for derby.gov.uk that their internal web team could then build upon. The council had identified Local Government Navigation List (LGNL) as a starting point for this new structure.
What is the LGNL?
LGNL is a UK government recommendation, designed to be a standard way of organising the services offered by a local authority on their website. This list of services is nested three levels deep and is poly-hierarchical, meaning that a second or third-level term can have multiple first-level parents. For example the second-level term ‘Libraries’ has three first-level parents; ‘Community and living’, ‘Education and learning’ and ‘Leisure and culture’.
As a child term can have multiple parents, one thing you have to question before employing a poly-hierarchy is whether the parent terms are too similar.
In an ideal case, there would be a clear distinction between each section of a website and each child term would have just one parent term. This wasn’t possible in this case though, due to the overlapping nature of the content on a council site. Subject matter can be interpreted differently based on how a user identifies a term and the task they are trying to perform.
Why is structure important?
If a user knows exactly what it is they’re looking for, search is often the most popular and efficient way to access content. There are however different methods in which users navigate websites. These depend on both user preference and the reason they are coming to the site. Navigation systems such as action-based navigation (“Pay it”), user-based navigation (“I’m a teacher”), location-based navigation (“What’s happening near me?”) are all very useful. The LGNL navigation is suited to users who are drilling-down to content.
There are a few things to take into consideration when implementing a poly-hierarchal navigation system such as the LGNL:
- How do we avoid duplicating content?
- How will URLs be structured?
- How do we prioritise certain navigation to avoid big long lists?
- What about contextual navigation menus?
- What are the technical limitations of the systems we have to work with?
Looking closely at the LGNL documentation reveals that each second-level and third-level term has a default parent. Opening the RDF file for Libraries reveals a line referencing this:
<defesdorguk:defaultBroader rdf:resource="http://id.esd.org.uk/serviceGroup/100009" />
The information is pretty well hidden, so we created a script that parses all LGNL RDF files, separating primary and secondary terms in a way that’s easy to visualise. The output is available to view as HTML here.
We decided to structure the site using sections based on the first-level terms. Second and third-level terms were nested below their default parent. We essentially turned the poly-hierarchy into a mono-hierarchy, using secondary relationships to create links to other sections. Colour-coded sections helped to signpost different sections.
On first and second-level landing pages we treated iconography in a similar way to typography; primary links used a heavier weight of icon than secondary links.
Contextual navigation on third-level detail pages was also split into primary and secondary links:
Deviating from the LGNL
One nice thing about the LGNL is that even though there are many pages, it’s quite shallow at only three levels deep. Three levels wasn’t always enough though when it came to content types such as places or people. In these cases we added a listing page as a third level term and introduced a fourth level for the detail page. For example, ‘Libraries directory’ is a third-level term and ‘Allenton Library’ is a fourth-level term.
Online services were linked to from a separate actions navigation. Redesigning these services was out of the scope of this project.
‘Jobs and careers’ is technically an LGNL term, but we decided to separate the section in order to meet the specific requirements of the the council. This was developed in-house.
Rather than treat news and events as being specific to a section within the LGNL, we chose to separate news and events into a global ?What?s happening in Derby? section. Creating a separate section provided the benefit of relating news to multiple LGNL pages. News and events can be used as another navigation method to access pages that might otherwise be nested deeper in the site structure.