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The website navigation structure

Website Guide menuFrom 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.

Your assignment:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.

  1. 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).
  2. 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.
  3. 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.

Doug

10 comments to The website navigation structure

  • Kimberly Dawes

    1. Publisher Reviews (listed in the drop down menu for Curriculum Reviews) is a confusing name. Name alternatives: Publishing House profiles? Publisher profiles? Review of Publishing houses?

    2. This brings me to an important question raised by the wording on the site:
    Are the publishers/books/resources that ASA members will review limited to “Christian”, or will they include any material marketed to or discovered by homeschoolers- whether explicitly “Christian” or not?

    Example: Scientists in the Field series is not Christian, however Quest for the Tree Kangaroo contains praise for Missionary Aviation Fellowship pilots who flew the team to their field site and positive comments about missionaries (Seventh Day Adventists, although not specified in the book) who changed the world view of the indigenous people so that they began to protect, rather than hunt, the tree kangaroo.
    In addition: most lab kit companies are not “Christian”, yet homeschoolers would appreciate expert scientist evaluation and field testing of kits marketed to them.

    Thoughts?

  • Kimberly Dawes

    In About pull down menu; About this Project section:
    >”we do not officially endorse any one viewpoint with regard to evolution or other “hot topics” currently discussed in scientific and popular culture. (It should be noted that many of our members are in agreement with the general scientific community about well established theories…”<
    Can we insert ",but not all," between "many….of our members…"?
    I thought ASA membership includes all stripes in the scientific debate. The "many" not not be a strong enough qualifier for some homeschoolers to feel comfortable with.

    Doug- overall I find this site clear with only a few word tweaks possibly needed.

  • Douglas Hayworth

    Kimberly,

    Re: “many” vs. “many but not all” — I guess I don’t see why those additional words are necessary. I try to keep things as succinct as possible (My natural tendency is to over-qualify statements when I write, especially by adding parenthetical asides like this one). The word “many” does not mean all, nor does it necessarily mean most. I think it’s important to tell visitors who we are, and this statement is accurate about that. I also do not want to be too shy about letting readers know that we embrace serious consideration of established science — that, in fact, our membership predominantly and unashamedly represents established science.

    This is why knowing our mission and primary audience is so important. We aren’t really seeking to appease users who are completely skeptical of established science or anything that is friendly to evolution. We’ll waste our energies if we’re always trying to dance around those people’s concerns. Our primary audience is those who are open and willing to seriously consider views that hold established science in high regard.

    –Doug

  • Douglas Hayworth

    Kimberly,

    1. I’m okay with “Publisher Profiles” — it’s short enough and probably more accurate than “Reviews”. Let’s find out what others think.

    2. No, we will not limit our reviews or supplements to Christian ones. Anything is fair game. Personally, I prefer many secular resources (textbooks) because they include better science; but secular resources will lack (and in some cases demean) Christian worldviews, so that’s where we could recommend supplements that fill those gaps. Thus, a review of a secular textbook (or reviewer or publisher) would inform the reader that this status and might point out areas where Christian values were challenged; a good reviewer would also then recommend supplementary materials for balancing or filling that gap, should a parent choose to use that secular curriculum. Although I mentioned “Christian” in some of the examples, I also listed secular items (e.g., PBS documentaries), and I did not use “Christian” in the defining statements about each item. Even so, I’ll review those descriptions to see if I can make that more clear. It’ll be much better as soon as there are several real items of content in each category.

    –Doug

  • Randy Isaac

    I like Publisher Profiles better than Publisher Reviews also. I did a doubletake the first time I read “Publisher Reviews” before I understood what it was.
    The structure looks good and should get the site off to a good start.

    I would also tend to side with Kimberly on inserting “but not all”. I don’t think it violates the succinct nature of the text (it may be too wordy for that in the first place!) but adds what may be a key clarification that ASA is not monolithic in its perspectives. You are right, Doug, that the use of the term “many” by itself technically conveys that message, but it is rather discrete and downplayed.

    Randy

  • Douglas Hayworth

    Randy,

    Thanks for seconding the motion from Kimberly about Publisher Reviews and that wording in the “about” page. I’ll make those changes. It’s especially important to get the names of these category pages finalized ASAP, as changing them alters the URL. That’s not something one wants to do once a site has been indexed and hyperlinked by lots of people. (Yes, it can be managed with redirects, but that takes some admin work, too.)

    –Doug

  • BA Poteat

    Overall, the navigation structure does justice to the organizing principles of the HSR project. Curricula and supplements are the foci. Here are just a few observations.

    1. I also like the title “Publisher Profiles.” When a person starts with a curriculum in mind, its publisher is a logical part of the overall evaluation. It may be of secondary importance but still important to some to consider profiles in the sense of getting to know a publisher or even reviewer or school of thought a little better before landing on a particular curriculum to explore. I’m not sure whether or how the navigation structure could be modified to reflect that. I also wouldn’t want the site to be too easy to navigate to information consistent only with a perspective preselected by the user. Does anyone else see the possibilities in that direction?

    2. It isn’t clear to me how we would classify a published set of syllabi or the like that doesn’t include the kind of theoretical or propositional content found in a textbook but that does seem to convey a “reviewable” perspective on science. I’m not even sure there are any such things published, although I can think of certain uses for them in some contexts. What do others think about that?

    3. This may fall under sorting and filtering. If so, it can be discussed later. However, it could impact the overall navigation structure. What can be done to conform to some of the strengths of certain websites or internet strategies that utilize a “swarm marketing” approach to direct people to information in part based on the popularity of or ratings applied to the destinations? Would hotlists, helpfulness ratings, or other strategies be relevant? Some of the most heavily used websites, such as social networking sites, allow for users to form an identity that incorporates the sites they use so that, by their personal involvement with the shaping of site content, they become most committed to the sites and their content.

  • BA Poteat

    An example of my last note just occurred to me. Many blog hosts often allow for pages, categories, and tags as simultaneously presented “navigation structures.” Those three elements may be thought of as indicating an increasing degree of dynamism among website content. Would that sort of thing be valuable and feasible at this stage of project development? This seems relevant to me, but I’d like to know what others think.

  • Douglas Hayworth

    Brad,
    You are thinking along the same lines me about these topics:
    1. I will be changing the name to Publisher Profiles, as that more accurately reflects what I always intended for that category. And, yes, I also mean for it to be a way for people to get a quick “objective” outlook on different publishers.
    2. I don’t have an exact idea how the syllabus section would be organized. Here’s what I was thinking: Suppose a year from now we have reviewed several prominent textbooks and indicated that they were somewhat lacking in topics X and Y. Suppose also that we have created or reviewed various eclectic resources that seem to pick up the slack on topics X and Y. Finally, suppose that homeschooler Z tried using the textbook plus the supplementary resources and had a great success with it. She could share her syllabus here.
    3. Yes, in time we will want to use some of these SEO and “marketing” tactics. Of course we need content first. Then, we also need to have very well defined sorting and filtering categories which we apply consistently. I have done some brainstorming about this, but we will need to work on these category lists much more in the coming weeks. Stay tuned!

    –Doug

  • BA Poteat

    2. The database’s backend structure need not be identical to the website. For the sake of flexibility, it probably shouldn’t be. Similar to a relational database, the items in the HSR database may be thought of in tag- or keyword-like terms. Not all reviewable items have the same attributes, and some portions of a given item may be reviewable in themselves. If we could start with a flexible structure, it might allow us to retain more useful information on each item included.