A classic usage of the sitemap is to provide a concise overview and a visualization of the structure of a propose site/app – but without getting into the details of page design.

These days the Sitemap is used mostly to provide a quick, comprehensive overview “snapshot” image of a site. These high-level sitemaps allowed project stakeholders to sign-off quickly on the direction of their projects.  Some of the types of sitemaps we see often:

  • Corporate / Intranet
  • Brochureware
  • Application-Oriented
  • Information Retrieval

The Sitemap=  High-Level overview of the Structure

This is often done – at a high level – as an early presentation to project stakeholders: The Sitemap provides a common ‘vision’ of the product, which provides an indication of logical architecturecontent, and workflow to tech, business, marketing constituencies.

Olde Schoole Structure

I’ve always wondered what a “sitemap” really is…

Historically, it was a literal/technical overview of the categories of a hierarchically-organized site (i.e. “the bucket list”). Sort of a SuperMenu. Very logical, if you buy into the structure, but not necessarily flexible.

The logical/hierarchical sitemap doesn’t necessarily reflect how you actually experience the site. These “views” tend to be very functionally based on roles, workflows, mental models.

And it really can’t capture the referential elegance of a robustly-hyperlinked environment which easily transcends the organizational boundaries – Those “lateral connections” that allow us to make just-in-time leaps to appropriate info.

Mobile “flat” design is less dependent on hierarchical categories. Your interaction is determined more by targeted workflow and invasively “helpful” background applications that serve up solutions proactively.

More digital self-awareness means less conscious choice.


The sitemap is a graphical image which indicates the high-level structural organization of the legacy system. Textual callouts often provide context:

  • Number of subsections beneath
  • High-level observations about content and usage
  • Assessment of good & bad, weak & strong points

Client stakeholders should have a high-level handle on the shaping of the legacy site, the scoping of tasks that lie ahead.

“Everything is deeply intertwingled. In an important sense there are no “subjects” at all; there is only all knowledge, since the cross-connections among the myriad topics of this world simply cannot be divided up neatly. Hierarchical and sequential structures, especially popular since Gutenberg, are usually forced and artificial…people keep pretending they can make things hierarchical, categorizable and sequential when they can’t.”

— Ted Nelson – “Computer Lib / Dream Machines”

Corporate / Intranet : “Self Service”

This hi-level sitemap from an intranet redesign in the mid 2000’s. It reflects the basic navigational structure. It’s a simple one-pager, but also provides a bit of explanatory ‘meat’ for each section.

This proposed sitemap structure allows employees quick access to a range of corporate / intranet functions.

It reflects the navigational structure of the Intranet Demosite document.

  • View the case study in my portfolio: SCANA

Brochureware : “Presentational Mini-Site”

Of course, there are also good reasons to dive into greater detail:

This Mini-Site is basically a self-service brochure: it illustrates connections (both primary and secondary) and volume of information (number of pages).

The ABN AMRO site was just that, with direct connections to PDF collateral shown at the bottom of the sitemap.

  • View the case study in my portfolio: ABN AMRO

Application-oriented : “Heavy Lifting”

Here’s another variation:

This is more of a workflow of a trading process. In this case it focuses more on the steps of a task towards a goal, rather than the arrangement of pages.

  • Create a Trade Execution
  • Select an Execution or Loading
  • Edit attributes
  • Add a Purchase or Sales Contract

The navigational structure captures how the pages in the sitemap fit together to accomplish the mission-critical trading tasks (but it doesn’t really communicate the process).


Information Retieval – “the Library”

The West Point Library website was structured for directed self service by a limited group of participants with very defined needs: Student Cadets, Faculty, Administrators and – to a lesser extent – Visitors.

It addresses (through color groupings) how people in different roles use the same information.

Sitemaps give us a picture of how we organize our thoughts

A ‘well-designed sitemap’ is one which accomplishes your communication goals.


© The Communication Studio LLC