I recently came across a very interesting book by Kent L. Norman called The Psychology of Menu Selection: Designing Cognitive Control at the Human/Computer Interface. The book focuses on menu selection in computer applications and “provides detailed theoretical and empirical information of interest to software designers and human/computer interaction specialists and researchers.”
(Jump to guidelines for better information architecture below.)
I haven’t read the book in its entirety but it has several chapters that appear very relevant to today’s information architects, including:
- Depth vs. Breadth of Hierarchical Menu Trees (chapter 8 ) and
- Prototyping and Evaluation of Menu Selection Systems (chapter 12).
Some of the specific section titles also really resonated with me:
- 4.2.2 User [Search] Strategies and Styles
- 6.1.3 Perceptual Grouping
- 6.1.5 Ordering of Menu Items
- 6.2 Writing the Menu
- 7.2 Acquisition and Learning
- 11.4 Expert vs. Novice Users
Given the emphasis on HCI and psychology one might easily think this is a relatively recent volume on IA and usability. In fact, this book was published in 1991! I find it amazing how appropriate much of the content still is. It’s also very interesting to compare the developments over the past two decades to the predictions discussed in chapter 13, The Future of Menu Selection.
You can buy the book from Amazon or read the complete book online (also on Google Books).
Guidelines for better information architecture
I have adapted the following list of guidelines from the Checklist for Menu Design appendix in Mr. Norman’s The Psychology of Menu Selection with the aim of repurposing suitable guidelines for information architects to use with today’s websites:
|Does the site structure match the tasks to be performed by the user?||2.1, 11.5.2|
|Does the apparent site complexity and functionality match the intended user need?||3.3|
|Is the structure designed so as reduce the total number of navigational steps needed to reach the desired page?||9.1.3|
|Are frequently needed and critical pages located near the top of the site structure, requiring a small number of clicks from the homepage?||10.1.3, 11.5.1|
|Does the structure convey an appropriate metaphor that facilitates user’s understanding of the site?||4.3.3|
|Do the navigational labels provide meaningful, unambiguous summary of the pages?||2.2.3|
|Do the labels use familiar and consistent terminology?||6.2.2|
|Are the labels distinct from one another?||6.2.2|
|Do important keywords stand out in the labels?||6.2.2|
|Does the site promote learning of the location of pages in the site structure?||7.2.1|
|Does site design build on our prior learning and experience of the intended users?||7.3|
|Does the layout of the navigation facilitate visual scanning by the user?||4.1.1|
|Do the number of pages per navigation level and the number of levels in the site structure optimise navigation time?||4.1.3|
|Has random or arbitrary ordering of pages on a particular level in the site structure been avoided?||6.1.5|
|Are pages on a particular level presented in a logical order to facilitate scanning?||6.1.5|
|Are pages on a particular level ordered to reveal structure and relationships among them?||6.1.5|
|Does the order of pages agree with the user’s expected ordering?||6.1.5|
I used the approximate analogies of menu = navigation, system = site, frame = screen and item = page in the translation. The original cross-references to the relevant sections in the book are included next to each guideline.
Many thanks to Kent L. Norman for his inspiring book and for providing free access to it online!
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