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In software, "top down" design develops a master plan for a program, then splits it up into a small number of large tasks, then breaks them up into smaller tasks, and so on, until all the tasks are identified. Then programming may begin to implement the functions, procedures, and objects needed.
In database design, it identifies all the data and their structures, before any tables and fields are created.
For the InformationArchitect and in ContentManagement, "top down" refers to identifying the content in the context of how it is used. UserResearch is the starting point for UserCenteredDesign?. The emphasis is on Usability and the UserExperience. Only then can mockups of the content (a WireFrame, BluePrint, etc.) be prepared for UserTesting.
The opposite BottomUp design looks at the details first to handle content as it is identified.
RT - BottomUp
Up to CmsGlossary.