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Metaphor exploration

I was particularly intrigued by the section on metaphor in information architecture and how it can be a useful tool and a hinderance in working with clients and creating structure for the Web. Gore’s information superhighway was one of the earlies metaphors used to help people envision the Internet. Thinking about this, Web is another metaphor that has been used. Why do we make such heavy use of metaphor when talking about the Internet? The authors do not directly reference the reason, but I think it has a lot to do with a major principle of navigation systems that was discussed earlier. People want to be able to envision where they are and have a sense of where they can go from there.

Perhaps a Web was a good way to reference the Internet in the past, but considering the way that search engines are more prominently used, wouldn’t a more accurate metaphor be a giant candy jar? You tell someone what you’re craving and they try to find something similar. They might find the candy you asked for, or they might find something better. Of course, then they could find stale off-brand candy that makes you ask someone else to look for you. I suppose this wouldn’t be a very optimistic metaphor.

On page 254, figure 11-4 shows a page highly inundated with metaphor that serves as the main page for the Internet Public Library. The links to various sections are provided on a graphic interface that is supposed to portray a library. For example, the librarian’s desk has a “Ask a question” link, while a stack of magazines on a table near a sofa has the link for “entertainment and leisure.” I think that the problem with metaphor based pages like this one is that they deviate greatly from the type of navidation that most users typically expect.

I am not suggesting that creativity is never warrranted, but a user looking for a search button or a home link will have to search through the entire page of scattered links before finding that none of these expected items exist. Perhaps they may click on the “Ask a Question” link for the search, but this is likely to be a question for a librarian given the proximity to the librarian at the desk.

This page is likely older and has since seen a major update that is more effective and standardized than the example in “Information Architecture.” Perhaps as the internet becomes older, it will not need metaphors such as this to be understood. I am having a metaphor experience of my own in the design of the UA Web site. Recently there was a request for a “fund tree” to be added. This tree would outline and categorize all of the various outlets of giving to the University. The “tree” is an excellent idea and it will help donors more efficiently find the particular fund they would like to donate to or make them aware of similar funds they kight be interested in.

However, the “fund tree” isn’t a tree in the sense that I expected. Actually, the “tree” proposed will work much better that what I had envisioned the representatives were referring to, which was a series of pull-down categories that would allow users to select or find more information about a particular fund. If this structure were laid out on paper, it could be drawn up to represent a tree. I imagined what would be put on the Web would be a tree of funds much like a family tree. There was no time loss as I was not in charge of constructing such a tree, but this simple metaphor could have cost time.

To this end, I am considering creating a blueprint of the giving process for the records of those concerned. I have alread created several blueprints (another metaphor) for the main navigations and structureing of pages. However, I feel that a task oriented set of blueprints might shed some light the the reps regarding how our user will be able to accomplish what they need to accomplish on the redesigned Web site.

I am also regretting after reading about wire frames, not using this as a way of deciding how to structure the content. The revised sitemaps worked well, but even without the technical Web knowledge required to build the frame, I could have done a mock version with paper that could have been organized and less confusing than the guides and notes on the site maps. I’ll just chalk it up as the road not taken or hind sight being 20/20.


January 24, 2009 - Posted by | Information Architecture

1 Comment »

  1. It is not too late to do wire frame testing.

    Nielsen is a great person to read on the limits of metaphor on the web.

    Comment by Jim Kalmbach | February 3, 2009 | Reply

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