From Doug Hayworth to ASA volunteers and others interested in the implementation of this HSR website.
The purpose of this post is to provide you the opportunity to comment and ask me about the website’s main navigation structure. Does the categorization of content in main menu bar make sense to you? Is this list of categories adequate to capture all of the content types that we might want to provide? Are the category names clear and concise?
The structure you see here is one that I formulated based on many hours of study (and many sheets of scratch paper!). This doesn’t necessarily mean that it can’t be improved upon, but it does mean that I’m not really prepared to consider suggestions for a complete redesign. (No doubt there are several equally good ways to organize the information, and you would have developed a slightly different structure if the task had been yours.)
I am very interested in your thoughts, suggestions and questions, but I expect that you will have done your homework first. Please resist the temptation to merely skim this message before firing off a quick comment or question.
- Read this entire message. There are certain “best practices” about website design and functionality that influenced my choices about the content structure. You’ll need to consider my brief comments about that below as you review this issue.
- Read and study every “category” page in the main drop-down menu. Start with the Website Guide. Each menu item goes to a landing page that briefly describes the types of content that will be housed there.
- Brainstorm about types of content. Make a list of all the kinds of content that you imagine might be appropriate for us to produce for our target audience. Can all of these fit neatly into the main categories provided?
As you review the category pages, first do your best to understand what I intend for each category (based on the descriptions on those pages), then evaluate whether the category name seems appropriate. Did the category name (e.g., “Publisher Reviews” or “Lesson Plans”) mislead you about what content you would find there? (At the moment there are only “dummy” placeholder posts in each category, so don’t count on those to exemplify the features of each post type. We will discuss the specific layouts and templates for reviews in a future blog post.) Are there any modifications you would recommend to the names or descriptions?
Website design considerations:
We all know when a website is structured and implemented poorly; it’s hard to find what you’re looking for, either through navigation (browsing) or through search (the search box). However, unless you’ve built and run websites yourself, you might not appreciate how complicated it is to set up things well.
One of the best and worst features of the web is that things don’t have to be organized in only one way. It’s possible to provide several routes for finding the content users seek, but this can become very confusing and backfire if it is not very carefully planned. Providing too many options at once is overwhelming. All of this comes under the heading of what’s sometimes called “Findability”. In this post, I’m asking you to consider only one aspect of findability, namely navigation. However, I’d like to mention the other main components of findability, as this information will alleviate some of your concerns and questions about the completeness of the navigation structure.
- Navigation refers to the path by which you can browse to an item of interest, starting at the home page. The menu bar is supposed to define the main outline or browse-hierarchy of a website. It should correspond to the most important or primary purpose of the site (This is why its important to clearly define your mission before throwing together a website!) On a good website, you always know where you are in the hierarchy; often this is accomplished by providing a breadcrumb trail (showing the folder path) at the top of the page. I plan on adding this functionality to the site in due time. Some websites have drop-down menus with several levels of fly-out sub-menus. In my opinion, that gets confusing, and is is better handled through other means (see remaining points).
- Search can include navigation, but here I’m using the term to refer to using the search box. When you type a word or phrase in the search box, you expect the site to return a list of links to pages that are most likely to provide what you are interested in. The search engine results page (SERP), can include links to items that reside anywhere on the site (i.e., any part of the browse hierarchy). If your search term was quite specific, all of the links on the SERP will be relevant. For a more general term (e.g., physics books), you’ll need some help to find what you really want. That’s where sorting and filtering are critical; they bridge the gap between the primary structure (navigation) and any idea (search term) that users have in their heads.
- Sorting and filtering are possible when, next to the SERP, various parameters are provided as suggestions for re-ordering (sorting) or narrowing (filtering) the list of links that show. These parameters can include the primary navigation “categories” as well as various secondary or alternative categories. For this website, here’s where and how we can provide ways to refine search according to factors such as grade level, reviewer rating, theological perspective, school subject, difficulty, list price, and format (book, DVD, etc.). Of course, this requires that we classify every item of content according to these various parameters, something we’ll discuss in a future blog post.
That’s the long way of explaining why, in asking you to provide feedback about the navigation menu, I don’t want you to worrying too much about all those other possible categories or dimensions of classification. I’m mostly interested in refining the names, descriptions, and purview of the main hierarchy.
Thanks in advance for your help.