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Spider diagrams

"non-hierarchical hierarchy"

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What is it?

As used in a user experience sense, a spider diagram is a "freeform" technique for visualising taxonomy without the rigid hierarchical formalism of a sitemap (or dendrogram, more generally).


In keeping with all network formalisms, a spider diagram consists of nodes connected by links. Borrowing concepts from the idea of liquid browsing, the nodes of the spider diagram can be different in size, so as to reflect different aspects of that node, e.g. amount of content contained, complexity of the functionality and so on. Spider diagrams offer a convenient way to visualise a whole site structure on a single page.

What's it for?

A spider diagram is a novel and interesting way of representing taxonomy, i.e. it's an alternative to the "traditional" inverted tree-structure of a dendrogram. It can be useful to have a website structure represented in both ways, i.e. as both a dendrogram and as a spider diagram, as each method of visualisation has its advantages and disadvantages. Depending upon how the project is being run, spider diagrams may be the "working structure" of the site - which may go through a number of iterations as the project progresses - which is then ratified by a final, canonical hierarchical tree-structure dendrogram.

How to create a spider diagram
Although there are specific pieces of software for creating them - is one - spider diagrams can be created by any software drawing application: I use Visio, for example.

They can even - and this may be the best route in the first instance - be hand drawn. In this scenario, the spider diagram might be created on a whiteboard or other similarly large expanse of wall. The site structure could, in this way, be very fluid in the early stages of a project. Results from card sorting, affinity diagramming, and other requirements could be fed in as and when the data becomes available.

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