Organizing Web sites and intranets

A poorly organized Web site may have few repeat customers. Don't let it happen to you.

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Metaphors are commonly used to help users understand the new by relating it to the familiar. You need not look further than your desktop computer with its folders, files, and trash can or recycle bin for an example. Applied to an interface in this way, metaphors can help users understand content and function intuitively. In addition, the process of exploring possible metaphor-driven organization schemes can generate new and exciting ideas about the design, organization, and function of the web site.

While metaphor exploration can be useful while brainstorming, you should use caution when considering a metaphor-driven global organization scheme. First, metaphors, if they are to succeed, must be familiar to users. Organizing the web site of a computer-hardware vendor according to the internal architecture of a computer will not help users who don’t understand the layout of a motherboard.

Second, metaphors can introduce unwanted baggage or be limiting. For example, users might expect a digital library to be staffed by a librarian that will answer reference questions. Most digital libraries do not provide this service. Additionally, you may wish to provide services in your digital library that have no clear corollary in the real world. Creating your own customized version of the library is one such example. This will force you to break out of the metaphor, introducing inconsistency into your organization scheme.

In the Teletubbies example in Figure 5-8, the games area is organized according to the metaphor of a physical place, populated by creatures and objects. This colorful approach invites exploration, and children quickly learn that they must go “inside Home Hill” to play with the machine called “Nu Nu.” Since most of the target audience can’t read, an overarching visual metaphor is a great solution. But unless your web site is aimed at young children, metaphor should probably play only a niche role.

The Teletubbies’ metaphor-driven games area

Figure5-8.The Teletubbies’ metaphor-driven games area

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