Information Architecture and Findability

An IA Summit 2006 Seminar: Presented by Peter Morville

Reviewed by Russell Wilson

Published: April 14, 2006

“We all want to have a sense of forward motion without regard for actual progress. Search provides the illusion of forward motion, playing to a basic human need.”—Peter Morville

Peter Morville, co-author of Information Architecture for the World Wide Web with Lou Rosenfeld and author of Ambient Findability, presented a very informative day-long lecture on the subject of information architecture (IA). He discussed many basic concepts as well as best practices, so his presentation would appeal to both beginner and intermediate IAs.

Some highlights:

  • Simply stated, an information architect’s goal is to help people find what they are looking for.
  • The line between information architecture (IA) and interaction design (IxD) is fuzzy.
  • Standards are established from the top down, while conventions are established from the bottom up.
  • In general, provide multiple ways to get to the same information. Depending on the user or the task, one scheme might work better than another.
  • Topic is often the best way of organizing information.
  • You have to balance depth with breadth. Every time you add a hierarchical level, you introduce the possibility of users getting lost.
  • Searching is the way we learn. In most situations, it’s best to have a balance between searching and browsing.
  • Hierarchy is fundamental to the way we understand our world. It aids us in forming mental models of what we are trying to understand.
  • There are two basic types of organizational schemes: exact, or objective—for example, white pages—and ambiguous, or subjective—for example, yellow pages.
  • Bubbling up the most common subcategories to display them directly beneath the main category is one of the most effective ways of helping people to develop the scent of information.
  • The goals of navigation are to
    • support task flow
    • provide context and flexibility
    • avoid drowning content
  • The results of a usability study conducted by the University of Maryland indicated that breadcrumbs—a form of structural navigation—are very important and have a measureable impact on ease of use.
  • The paradox of the active user—We all want to have a sense of forward motion without regard for actual progress. Search provides the illusion of forward motion, playing to a basic human need.
  • One idea for user research—Ask users ahead of time what they would expect to be in a product—what functionality and capabilities—then have them try to use the product to accomplish the goals they’ve listed, if possible.

For more information about this seminar, see Pabini Gabriel-Petit’s review.

1 Comment

I have recently taken part in a Q&A session with Dave Chaffey of Marketing Insights on the subject of findability in e-commerce sites. My responses to the 5 questions asked were based mainly on my 6 years experience at Littlewoods Shop Direct as lead user experience designer, which involved working on the information architecture and findability of retail sites with in excess of 10,000 products to find your way through. Dave also refers to Peter Morville and the book Ambient Findability.

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