AEA Chicago 2009: Concept Models: A Tool for Planning Websites

Concept models, a way of visualizing abstract concepts, was the subject of Dan Brown’s Session 4 of An Event Apart Chicago 2009 with Dan Brown.

Types of navigation

  • traditional
  • emerging
  • anticipatory

The site map is no longer an effective way of describing content.

Start Modeling with

  • a theme; the central “story”
  • what is of most interest
  • from there, build out based on familiarity
  • combat obscurity, i.e. define buzzwords

Structures you can use

  • hub & spoke – define a central idea
  • diad, triad… – a few main ideas
  • value prop – a sentence broken out into sections

Going from concept model -> site model

  • take main points/hubs become templates.
  • seems that the purpose of these concept models is to make a website match the subject (relationships on the website would mimic real-life relationships, etc.)
  • experiment with including different elements from the concept models in different wireframes

Why models? 8 tips

  1. determine context
    • that is, they help you determine the context
  2. do research
  3. make a list
    • of nouns
    • concept models are nouns connected by verbs
  4. start with less

    • find good starting points
  5. start with more
    • to move stuff around and experiment
  6. label everything
    • the more active the verbs the better
    • use plural nouns
  7. balance familiar and unfamiliar
    • use familiar to describe unfamiliar
    • need a mix of both
  8. involve others
    • collaborative, whiteboard approach


How early in the modeling process do you get user feedback?
hard for users to understand underlying structures
at prototyping stage
Does this process mostly focus on UI? or is it also useful for a DB admin?
tends to be object-oriented, but usually focused on user
Does size of circle/distance matter?
can be used to enhance, don’t need to be
you define your own relationships, cues

How do you engage clients?

go digital sooner rather than later; screen share
Is this something you could share with content owners to ask, “do I have this right”?
yeah, that’s a great application
How do you know when you’re done? Could go on forever
when your deadline’s passed
What are the disadvantages to using concept models?
thinking about abstract ideas; if you’re presenting to people who don’t like thinking abstract, it’s not going to work
it’s a planning tool, nothing more
If you’ve already got a website that’s poorly organized, can it help you fix it?
I have no idea what he said here