I was working with my colleagues Christine Burri and Kathleen Lota to improve a guide for HR business partners. In discussing how to organize the guide, we talked about the best model for organizing content: Richard Saul Wurman’s LATCH structure.

Not familiar with LATCH? It’s a scheme that Mr. Wurman introduced in his book, Information Anxiety. (Mr. Wurman, by the way, is best known for being the founder of the TED conference. He also coined the term, “information architect.”)

The premise of LATCH is that that nearly all organizational schemes for data can be reduced to five basic dimensions: Location, Alphabet, Time, Category and Hierarchy.

As Mr. Wurman writes, LATCH is “applicable to almost any endeavor—from your personal file cabinets to multinational corporations. They are the framework upon which annual reports, books, conversations, exhibitions, directories, conventions, and even warehouses are arranged.”

LATCH works so well because it provides a easy-to-use framework for structuring information. Your choice, writes Mr. Wurman, should be determined by the story you want to tell. “Each way will permit a different understanding of the information—within each are many variations. However, recognizing that the main choices are limited makes the process less intimidating.”

For example, “If you were preparing a report on the automobile industry, you could organize cars by place of manufacture (location), year (time), model (category), or Consumer Reports ratings (hierarchy). Within each, you might list them alphabetically. Your choice would depend on what you wanted to study or convey about the industry. If you wanted to describe the different types of cars, your primary organization would probably be by category. Then, you might want to organize by hierarchy, from the least expensive to the most. If you wanted to examine car dealerships, you would probably organize first by location, and then by the number or continuum of cars sold.

“After the categories are established, the information about the cars is easily retrievable. Each way of organizing permits a different understanding; each lends itself to different kinds of information; and each has certain reassuring limitations that will help make the choices of how the information is presented easier.”

Want to learn more about LATCH? Here is one article containing the basics, and another on applying LATCH to infographics.

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