Taxonomy & Mega Menus… Part 2: Grouping

Best Practice #2: Use chunking and grouping to increase scanability and learnability

So you’ve taken the mega-menu plunge and you now have more labels to fit into your drop-down. How do you make sure it doesn’t look like a mess of text?

There are a couple of options:

Grouping:
Create clear and logical groupings within the menu and give them prominent labels that can easily be scanned.

There are four elements to this approach

1. Logic: Groups have to be internally coherent and logical. Either they are all children of a common parent or somehow conceptually related in a way that is evident and quickly learnable.

2. Labeling: Use simple, unambiguous labels that convey the nature of each group. Decide if your labels will be “clickable” – is there a landing page behind them or is it just a visual way-finder? The mega-menus tend to discourage clicking on such intermediate levels, but marketing may want the space to provide category-level merchandising.

3. Volume: Follow general good practice on number of items in a category. We can thank cognitive science for an easy rule of thumb of 7 +/- 2, but I would say that in a mega-menu, space being limited, I would reduce that to 5 +/-2. This will reduce visual noise and fits well with best practice #1 (less is more).

4. Visual distinction: Use striking colors, increase white space between groups, use shading or dotted lines… anything that you can do to make a visual separation between the groups so that they eye can quickly skip from one group to the other without much thinking.

Let’s look at some examples.

Here’s a screenshot from an office supply site taken a while back:Image

Aside from the fact that it has far too many terms, it is suffering from not having good visual distinction. It’s hard to distinguish the group labels from the single items below, and some of the terms are a little confusing: “Basic Supplies”? What makes a message pad a basic supply vs. a paper supply? I’d have a hard time scanning that label and deciding to either skip over that category or make the effort to look at the children.

Compare this to the next version of the same site:

Image

We still have the labeling issue, but notice how this is visually much easier to scan  – I can concentrate just on the bright blue headings to quickly decide where to focus my attention.

Here’s yet another office supply site:

Image

Good: nice visual grouping – flashy orange & capital letters directs attention
Bad: ambiguous labels (organization? how is a post-it organization?), too many terms in one category

This is fun… One more!

Image

Although they’ve tried to use capital letters and some dashed lines, the grey text just doesn’t attract the eye. There are also too many groups and the inconsistent use of multiple groups per column makes it look cluttered and confusing. Another interesting thing to note is that although visually subtle, the use of groupings likely still attracts attention more than the left hand column which has a collection of single choices. I would venture a guess to say that a majority of visitors to this site would ignore the left hand column altogether (except for the A-Z artist block).

Keep in mind that when available, groupings will visually and cognitively trump singles, so avoid mixing the two approaches.

There are some cases in which the mega-menu does not lend itself well to grouping, such as low term volume (in total or per group). If you have 6 categories with only 2 items in each, it can be more visually distracting to have group labels cluttering up the menu. In such cases, an alternative approach is:

Chunking:
Create “chunks” of related terms separated by white space (i.e. with no labels.)

This approach is definately less straightforward and doesn’t give the scanability that grouping with labels does, but it’s better than a big list of undifferentiated terms.

Image

Again, not as effective as labels, but cleaner and more meaningful than a straight list. Underwear, loungewear and socks are clearly related, and so are all the accessory type categories. One might be able to skip over a chunk after scanning only the first few items once you got the gist of its grouping principle.

Here’s what it looks like when you don’t use chunking or even ordering based on grouping principles.

Image

The price points aren’t grouped together… it’s hard to tell whether the items below mean that they are under 50$ (they aren’t)… the tea products are scattered in with other types… Generally messy.

So, to recap:

  • grouping is a good way to reduce the amount of work someone has to put in scanning a larger list of items
  • use visually distinctive grouping mechanisms
  • make sure labels are simple and intuitive
  • if you can’t group due to low volume, consider chunking (or at minimum using meaningful ordering)

Next in the series: Best Practice #3: Use simple & concise terminology

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Taxonomy & Mega Menus… Part 1 of many

No matter where I run, I cannot seem to hide from them.

They fly out of website navigation menus with no warning. They assault my senses with link overload.

…they are…mega menus.

Are they a new navigation paradigm or just a bad fad – like acid washed jeans?

And whose idea were they anyways?
It’s difficult to trace the starting point of the mega menu (or mega fly-out, or maxi menu, or whatever you call them); they started popping up on e-commerce sites a couple of years ago. The first one I bumped into one, my brow got that wrinkle it gets when I am at once curious and horrified – horrious? curified? I remember thinking, really? This is what we are doing now instead of putting effort into making our drop-downs more usable? Let’s just add more drop-down…

Once the initial feeling of horriosity passed, I just forgot about it. None of our clients were using them, so I didn’t really have to pay attention. And THEN, this March Jakob Nielsen put out an Alertbox saying “Mega Menus Work Well.” That was really the clincher. If Jakob/NNG says it’s ok, well there goes the neighbourhood. Continue reading

Integrating Taxonomy with CMS – Book Chapter in Publication

The final draft has been submitted… Mark your calendars…

The Information Management Best Practices 2009 book is going to publication this week, in hopes of being ready for launch at the J.Boye Conference in Aarhus, Denmark, Nov 2-4. I’ll be there, giving a talk on SharePoint IA, but also to lend a hand with the book launch activities.

I’m proud to have a chapter in this book, with co-authors Seth EarleyCharlie Gray (CMS & Taxonomy Strategist, Motorola), on one of our most in-depth and successful projects – integrating taxonomy with CMS at Motorola. The best practice covers the steps below in great detail, offering practical advice and screenshots from the actual implementation at Motorola.

Steps

  • Step 1: Educate Stakeholders on Taxonomy
  • Step 2: Bring a Taxonomy Expert onto your CMS Implementation Team
  • Step 3: Determine Functional Requirements Continue reading

Taxonomy Bootcamp 2009… A regular smorgasboard

Looking for a good way to spend a week in the California sun and learn more about taxonomy, search and knowledge management? Look no further than the triple-slam event of the fall conference season:

Taxonomy Bootcamp / KM World / Enterprise Search Summit West
Register today with our discount code to save 200$!

Mark your calendars, cause we have a full slate of taxonomy-related presentations this year, including:

Workshop: Taxonomy Implementation & Integration (Seth Earley & Stephanie Lemieux)
Date: November 16, 2009 – 9:00 – 12:00
Come hear Seth & I talk about how some of the companies we’ve worked with have been able to implement their taxonomies and integrate them with WCM, ECM and digital asset management systems among others. Hear about practical applications of taxonomy within different classes of tools as well as technical integration challenges (hierarchy challenges, build-vs-buy issues, etc.).

Workshop: SharePoint Information Architecture: Integrating Taxonomy & Metadata (Stephanie Lemieux & Shawn Shell)
Date: November 16, 2009 – 1:30 – 4:30
My friend Shawn Shell and I will cover the ups and downs of trying to build taxonomy and metadata frameworks in SharePoint – a tool with a distinct handicap when it comes to hierarchical metadata and search relevancy. We’ll talk about 3rd party add-ons that can help with tagging, taxonomy and faceted search.

Session: SharePoint Information Architecture: Integrating Taxonomy & Metadata (Jeff Carr & Stephanie Lemieux)
Date: November 19, 2009 – 1:15 – 2:00
If you can’t make it for the workshop, don’t miss this condensed version giving highlights on how to achieve taxonomy in SharePoint. We’ll cover a couple of case studies here as well, and give a quick overview of add-ons.

Session: Best Bet ROIs: We’ve Seen It All (Panel) (Seth Earley)
Date: November 19, 2009 – 3:30 – 4:15 EST
This panel of content management problem-solvers shares their experiences and perspectives of successfully determining the return on investment for folksonomy, taxonomy, and ontology initiatives

Session: Increasing Traffic by Integrating Taxonomy & SEO (Panel) (Jeff Carr)
Date: November 19, 2009 – 3:15 – 4:00 EST
Jeff is taking part in a fun panel format where speakers get just a few slides and a few minutes to make their point… Hear about how taxonomy is an important factor in many SEO ranking signals.

And if you’re not in info overload yet…

Session: Folksonomies: Beyond the Folks Tales (Panel) (Stephanie Lemieux)
Date: November 20, 2009 – 10:40 – 11:15
Join me for a panel that promises to be fun and informative, where Tom Reamy (KAPS) and I will go head to head on the merits and applications of Folksonomies.

This year promises to be a great show – join us in San Jose this November to chat about all things taxonomy, folksonomy, ontology, and any other “onomy” or “ology” you care to bring to the table. Use this link for a 200$ discount.

Special shout out to the TaxoCoP members – we’ll be sure to organize a get together for those of you who’ll be onsite.

SEO vs. TNBP or “Where was I going again?”

Much has been written on this blog about the value of SEO when it comes to taxonomies.  As Stephanie mentions its’ a huge weapon in the battle against outdated legacy terminology and spur of the second marketing speak. Jeff’s posts on keyword research, taxonomy and SEO are indispensable primers on the topic. So what haven’t we talked about yet?

How about SEO as the enemy of navigation?

Is there such a problem as too much of a good thing? When it comes to taxonomy navigation best practices and SEO, you bet.  Think about it this way: imagine you are meeting a friend for drinks after work and she tells you a story about something that happened to her during the day.

“I was in my office, and I had just poured myself a fresh cup of coffee.  I was in my office and the phone rang but I was tempted to ignore it. I was in my office and picked up the phone and it was my husband calling, did I mention I was in my office? Anyways I was in my office and my husband told me to sit down because he had incredible news. I was in my office and I sat down. I was in my office and my husband told me that we had just won the lottery?

Right, so… where were you again?  In your office, ok we get it!

Now have a look at the following taxonomy navigation suggested to us on a project for SEO purposes: Continue reading

How Many Facets is Too Many?

Recently on the Taxonomy Community of Practice, a member asked the following question on faceted taxonomy design:

“I’m researching about Faceted Navigation and Information Retrieval. I’ve been looking over the Internet for some articles/books/white papers about which is the best number of facets to use on a classification.”

Interesting question, especially given the popularity of faceted search and taxonomy. The community discussed the topic, and a a few answers were provided by members. Continue reading

Faceted Search Design – Ordering Facets

I’ve been lurking on the IAI’s mailing list for some time now, but recently someone posted a question that I just couldn’t resist answering:

We are getting ready to roll out a new faceted search option and I’ve been asked to make recommendations regarding the order of the facets and their characteristics.  I am having a hard time finding specific information about standards or best practices.  I repeatedly come across Stephanie Lemieux’s recent article, Designing for Faceted Search, stating that both facets and values should be based on importance.  While this is great, can anyone point me toward supporting information or is this something that is just understood?  Are there general guidelines for when to list characteristics alphabetically versus when to list them in descending order?

Ok, good call on the poster’s part – I had been vague in my article (Designing for Faceted Search, originally published in KM World), mainly because I had a broad audience and a word count limit. But I supposed that I should clarify a bit…  Here’s my response: Continue reading