Information Architecture – Week 4: Organizing and Search Systems

Organizing system.

It is important to consider the organization system of a website because that system supports the degree to which users can understand and comprehend the content being displayed. Organization helps the user know where she is, how to navigate laterally from one place to another, how to move through the site hierarchically, how to manipulate the content for a better browsing or searching experience, and where to go for additional information that the user may require (Morville and Rosenfeld, 2007).

The CUA LIS website follows a very traditional organizing system, almost identical to the blueprint illustrated and discussed in our text (Lynch and Horton, 2008, p. 92). It is fundamentally hierarchical, almost canonical, though slightly a hybrid. The Simmons GSLIS site is a hybrid site, and less hierarchical than the CUA site. It includes the horizontal navigation bar at the top pf the page, with very impressive pull-down menus. But the shifting photo gives the Simmons site a sort of dynamism that the CUA site does not have. And the huge aggregation of hyperlinks at the bottom provides a nice bottom-up organizational approach, a browser’s delight. The Drexel CCI site begins with a hybrid traditional top navigation bar, has rotating photos for a dynamic effect, but takes great advantage of the “below the fold” section to offer a wide range of related and interrelated links.

The CUA site is rather static, with the exception of the twitter feed below the fold and in the center. Of course, if no one is tweeting, the twitter feed becomes just another static element on an already static homepage, which was the case for most of Friday, February 7, 2014.

I suppose each site serves its user population well, or else it would be taken down and improved. There is something about the Drexel CCI site, the color combination, the geometry of the layout, and the multitudinous clickable links, that draws me in and makes me want to stay. I recall from a website focus group I participated in at work that they call that “stickiness.”

Search system pros and cons.

Search systems can be useful and appropriate, particularly if the website has several layers of depth and information is not readily available within two or three clicks. The pros of including a search system (Morville & Rosenfeld, 2008) include the following:
1) search gives access to layers of information beneath the homepage that may be several clicks away;
2) search aids the navigation if there is too much information to browse;
3) on a commercial or even on an informational site, search enables the user to zero in on the item required if the item is known and identified beforehand;
4) users have come to expect to see the search box on a website, just like on Google, just like on Amazon.com;
5) and finally, if the site contains dynamic content, a search system can help to control the dynamism and the user’s interaction with it.

The cons of implementing a search system (Morville & Rosenfeld, 2008) could include the following:
1) if the site is poorly organized, creating and maintaining a search system could divert resources away from making the necessary improvements to the content and navigation of the site, and a search system will not save a poorly designed and organized site;
2) if the search system is not optimized, it may not be helpful to the user in terms of creating good and useful search results;
3) a user who just wants to browse, especially where browsing is sufficient, may be put off by the installation or even the presence of a search system, and may flee to a different website;
4) and finally, if the site does not have sufficient depth to warrant having a search system, it may be a waste of resources.

The CUA site appears to benefit the most of the three from the search system, only because it allows separate searches of the LIS website and the whole University site. Also, the search site occupies more real estate on the homepage than the other two, which on the surface appears to be an advantage. However, a number of generic searches on the LIS page, including a search for “modern poetry,” referred me to the CUA public site, so perhaps there is no real advantage to having that option. And the amount of real estate the box occupies can be a nuisance if it clashes witht he overall layout of the page.

Simmons’ search box yields the most impressive set of results for my generic search for “modern poetry.” Drexel only had one match, possibly reflecting the overall technical and engineering direction of school’s academic programs. On the surface, then, I would conclude that Simmons GSLIS site has the best designed search system. It is nicely incorporated into the overall website design, in a prominent location that is neither obtrusive to the eye nor out of balance with the rest of the elements on the page. Search results open up on a page that includes the top navigation bar of the home page, plus discrete subject offers for narrowing (zeroing in on) the search. Neither of the other two sites have similar navigational aids nor additional search functions.

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