SpoolCast: Organization Schemes for Web Content with Donna Spencer

Sean Carmichael

January 14th, 2011

Duration: 29m | 15 MB
Recorded: October, 2010
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When approaching your information architecture, you’ll realize most sets of content can be organized in more than one way. You need to figure out which works best for your audience, your content, and your project’s goal. There are many approaches to choose from—alphabetic, geographic, format, organizational structure, task, audience, subject/topic—just to name a few. In her UIE Virtual Seminar, Organization Schemes for Web Content, Donna shares the most popular approaches, and offers tips on when and how to use each.

Donna’s a freelance information architect, interaction designer and writer, and happens to be one of our favorites in all of those categories. She is the author of two fabulous books: Card Sorting from Rosenfeld Media, and more recently A Practical Guide to Information Architecture, part of the Five Simple Steps series, which takes her seminar’s topic even further.

Here’s an excerpt from the podcast.

“…Sometimes with the information architecture work coming up with the categories and the concept and like what schemes are you going to use and things is relatively easy. Sometimes the real trick is coming up with the words that you are going to use to describe them so the labels.

And this could be really tricky. When somebody approaches your staff and they got something in their head and they are looking for it on screen we need to make a connection with what they have in their head and what they are saying. So, we really need to make sure we understand the terminology our users use and make sure that is available to them.

Said like that, it sounds not too hard, you do some user research, you understand what your users say, and you make sure you use those labels.

The trick with that and boy this can be hard is that often users use terminology that might be out of date. So in Australia the thing you get at the end of the tax year from your employer that then you use to do tax stuff is called I think it’s called now “pay as you go certificate.”

However, for years, it was called a group certificate. It has not been called for, oh man, at least 15 years I suspect but people still use the word group certificate.

So people will use old terminology, they will use the accurate terminology and if you try to use that in an interface people who prepare the content and who know the most about the content [laughter] will have kittens and validly because language is all about trying to be fairly privies so were communicating well with each other.

So, people call things particular things so that you communicate an idea. We definitely do not want to use terminology that users use if that terminology is inaccurate because people who do know it will go, ‘what?’ and you just never win that war with your content office because it is wrong.

The thing we really need to do is build bridge between those two things. So, if you got something that leads straight forward you can use the user terminology. But, if you got something a bit more complex, sometimes scientific, we’ve got to bridge between them…”

If you thought that was interesting, you’ll also hear Donna address these questions.

  • Do you always start an IA by doing a card sort first? How strictly do you adhere to what the users suggest in a card sort?
  • How do you test a scheme once you hit the magic point?
  • With a very large site which includes a wide variety of topics, how would it be best to test that scheme?
  • How do you deal with competing or multiple schemes on the same site?
  • What are some of the best practices for naming tasks so that users can recognize them easily?

As always, we welcome your thoughts in our comments section.

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