UI11: Creating Information Architectures around Core User Tasks

Joshua Porter

October 9th, 2006

I’m sitting in Gerry McGovern‘s talk right now: How to Design a Task-based Information Architecture. Gerry just made a funny and interesting point about writing for the Web. He said:

‘You don’t always want to write copy that exactly matches the user’s task. It’s a very special skill to write copy that speaks to the user’s task but doesn’t call it out explicitly when you don’t want to. Just imagine those folks who are looking for a hotel room at dirt-cheap prices. You probably wouldn’t write copy that says “Dirt-cheap hotel rooms”, but that might be the idea you want to communicate’.

Gerry’s heavy Irish brogue and great presentation skills makes this much more funny than I can write. But matching the person’s task (and their conception of their task) to the copy on the page is a unique and important skill. Interestingly, as Gerry points out, people do approach tasks in many domains similarly. Many people shop for cars in a similar way, for example. They perform many of the same tasks in the process of purchasing a car, no matter what kind of car they’re looking for or even what country they’re in. Some of these include:

  • Choosing a model
  • Research financing options
  • Research safety/consumer reports ratings
  • Exploring pricing options/packages

Though there are many other steps involved, these are big ones that many people buying cars go through. When creating an information architecture, you can be sure that these tasks are going to be important. When matching these tasks to the type of business you have, the actual words in your information architecture needs to reflect the values and ideas of the users you’re writing for, without resorting to saying something like “You’ll be cool with the in-dash iPod player”. Gerry calls this “framing” the web site from a small, core set of tasks, or what he calls the “Long Neck“.

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