Friday Feast #63: Information Architecture, Standards, Best Practices
This week’s Friday Feast takes a look at an insightful new interview of Jeffrey Zeldman, A List Apart’s new site design that everyone’s talking about, and user-friendly approaches to website information architecture.
Another Zeldman Interview
Lounge72’s Mathis Moder Interviews Jeffrey Zeldman
Even if you’ve read plenty of Jeffrey Zeldman interviews already, this new interview at Lounge72.com is nonetheless one not to be missed. Jeffrey answers questions about the latest on browsers, standards, A List Apart’s recent redesign, his latest book, Designing with Web Standards, where he gets his inspiration, creativity, and so much more.
Jeffrey’s passion for design and creativity, for Web standards, and his admiration of others' expertise all come through loud and clear. Those elements are a common thread that always shine through brightly in his interviews, his books, his website, and his e-mail. This new interview can give you plenty to think about, to tuck away, and to consider.
A List Apart Redesign
If you haven’t yet seen the recent redesign of A List Apart, check it out. You’ll find a new table-free all CSS design, and the content is managed by a custom content management script created by Brian Alvey.
The new design was launched October 20th with three new articles:
- Facts and Opinion About Fahrner Image Replacement, by Joe Clark.
- Sliding Doors of CSS, by Douglas Bowman.
- Random Image Rotation, by Dan Benjamin.
Some new features with the redesign:
- XML Feeds are a new feature for A List Apart. The feeds contain links and summaries for the most recent articles.
- Live Events with Jeffrey Zeldman, Brian Alvey, Eric Meyer, and others. Sign up to stay informed about these upcoming one-day seminars on designing with web standards.
- Topics Archives is a helpful feature, too, where you’ll find articles on Accessibility, CSS, Design, HTML | XHTML, and many more.
Site Indexes, Sitemaps, and Site Search
A List Apart has volumes of valuable articles, tips, scripts, and links to resources. Often when I visit this fantastic website I need to find something easily and quickly, as I’m looking for an answer to something, or I want to send a reference to someone. When a new issue comes out, though, I may want to more leisurely read the new articles and perhaps click over to a few related articles while I’m there. Those are two very different types of visits.
The new design includes helpful navigation features and organization. It’s clear that they’ve put a great deal of thought and care into the new design and information architecture. In addition, though, I hope they’ll also add a site search feature and a site index for visitors who need to find something quickly. Why? Here are a couple of examples.
I found it too time-consuming today to find an article through A List Apart’s archives, having to click page after page through a category’s archive, hoping I was looking in the correct category. I was looking for a specific article title that had a broken link in my bookmarks. After several pages of that I finally gave up and tried Google’s Toolbar Search Site feature, enabling me to immediately find the article and its new URL.
The above scenario is an example of when a visitor is looking for something specific. A well done site search tool can help someone find exactly what’s needed quickly, which is what happened when I used Google’s Site Search tool. A poor site search tool that isn’t accurate can lead to frustration, though, and of course I wouldn’t recommend that.
On the other hand, if I visited A List Apart to read the latest new articles, I may not use a site search tool at all and instead I’d probably follow the suggested related links or click on related category archives.
A Site Search is a User-friendly Option, Not a Replacement for Anything
One of my new clients recently told me that he didn’t want a site search to try to make up for poor site navigation, that he wants to be sure that the new website’s navigation stands on its own without the need for a site search. I wholeheartedly agree with that. A site search isn’t a replacement for something lacking or missing. A site search can and should be an additional user-friendly feature and option.
Since my client’s upcoming new website has dozens of articles and tips that he’s written, in addition to products and services, a search feature could be quite beneficial for those who need to quickly find something specific, as I mention above about searching A List Apart.
I’d also love to see an index page that lists and links to all of A List Apart’s articles, preferably including the author and article date. A one-page index might be too huge for their large site at this point, although as a broadband user I wouldn’t mind. I suspect their new content management system would automate that process, too, much like Movable Type. To make a more manageable page size for modem users, though, an index page of each category could still be helpful. An index page also makes it fast and easy to quickly scan the entire page or use the browser’s “Find in Page” feature. Search engines like indexes, too, of course, thus enabling people to find even more at your website via the search engines, too.
A website the size of A List Apart has different needs from a small 10-page website, of course. A small site really wouldn’t need a site search or an index. If you have a small site that you anticipate will grow, though, it can be helpful to consider how you’ll handle the site growth to add an index, a sitemap, or even a site search.
For more on site indexes, sitemaps, and site searches, see:
- Sitemaps and Site Indexes: What They Are and Why You Should Have Them, a recent article at Boxes and Arrows by Chiara Fox, September 8, 2003.
- Improving Usability with a Website Index, by Fred Leise for Boxes and Arrows, July 15, 2002.
- Search: Visible and Simple, by Jakob Nielsen, useit.com, May 13, 2001.
For more insight on information architecture, I wholeheartedly recommend Christina Wodke’s book, Information Architecture, Blueprints for the Web. I’m in the midst of reading it right now, and I’m finding it incredibly easy to understand and well written. It’s no coincidence that I wrote about information architecture today.
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