An apparatus and a method for an information management system are disclosed. The invention includes an Application Generator, the Distribution files generated by the Application Generator, and a Retrieval system which accesses the Distribution files. The Retrieval system uses data in the Distribution files to configure an Information System which runs stand-alone on a desktop computer. The information management system of the present invention uses an open hierarchical data structure for classifying information objects and providing a menu access to them. The open hierarchical data structure of the present invention includes multiple pathways to the same information object. Multiple paths can be used to support synonyms and to clarify word meanings within a context, thereby overcoming retrieval problems associated with conventional word matching technologies. The Application Generator also enables an author of an Information System to interactively link multimedia elements to information objects, and to customize the functional features and appearance of the Information System. The Distribution files include data related to the menu system and the configuration of the Information System, as well as data associated with the information objects. The Retrieval system guides an end-user to information objects in the Distribution files by generating successive selection menus in accordance with the open hierarchical data structure. Also disclosed is an embodiment of the invention that can be used to manage and distribute product information to buyers in the form of an electronic catalog. Buyers use the custom features of an Information System generated by the Application module to locate products, generate orders for the products, and transmit orders electronically to a vendor of the products. Product suppliers can also customize features in the electronic catalog to record the access path used by a buyer to create a product order.