I read about half of the “Information Architecture for the World Wide Web”, and then stopped at that. Not because it is not a good book; I just don’t plan to become a professional Information Architect. If I need to go deeper at some point, I’ll read the rest. All in all, I definitely recommend the book.
Nonetheless, it is really interesting to think about information architecture, organization, structure and search as abstract concept independent of an actual application, as well as applying to the real world of grocery stores, department stores, libraries, etc.
A couple of things really stuck out for me in addition to what I learned in “Don’t Make Me Think”:
There are two main ways to organize based upon the needs of your users:
- Exact organizational scheme. When the user knows exactly what they are looking for (e.g., white pages)
- Ambiguous organizational scheme. When users don’t know what they are looking for. Some types include organizing by task or topic, among other things
Hierarchical organizational structures can be tricky as many things do not neatly fit into a strict taxonomy. A taxonomy that allows cross-listing is referred to as polyhierarchical. However, if too much of this takes place, the value of the organization is reduced.
In addition, there is tension between the breadth and depth of the hierarchies. It is generally better to go for greater breadth, particularly as your site grows.
My knowledge grew the most in the area of search. I have a friend whose site needs search capability. I had thought of plugging something in for him for the entire site, and until did not realize the complexities involved in matching the users needs to the search capabilities.
For one, your users may need recall or precision, but they can’t have simultaneously as these are mutually exclusive:
- Recall. Recall is oriented toward finding a greater number of relevant matches (e.g., doing due dilligence on a company you are considering joining)
- Precision. Precision is oriented toward finding just a few very high quality matches (e.g., instructions on deck staining)
You will need to configure or choose your search engine accordingly. In addition, choosing to take advantage of automatic stemming (e.g., using thesauri) in your searching will result in greater recall at the expense of the precision. Your users’ goals needs to play an important part in this configuration.
In addition, you can choose to index your entire site, or break it up different search zones. Once again, the former increases recall, while the latter increases precision.
Finally, there are numerous ways and levels of details to provide around search results. Once again, this will be based upon your users goals.
In the end, you need to really understand your users’ goals to be able to create the appropriate Information Architecture.