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Upside-Down Architecture

Posted on Jun 26th, 2007 by Cyd Harrell
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A couple of recent studies have brought up a big challenge to traditional information architecture. We’ve been working with clients who are trying to create landing pages for customers of one kind or another, and without exception we’re discovering that the customers would never “land” there.

Their initial objective is always 2 or 3 levels down, and these days the way they arrive is straight from Google rather than down the client’s carefully planned hierarchy. Even when customers know exactly which company makes the product they’re interested in, they go to Google and type “company productname” rather than going to company.com and navigating (or even using the homepage search).

So there’s this interesting phenomenon where the user has met an initial task need, but could really benefit from information that’s further “up” in the hierarchy of pages on the site. Traditionally we recommend using wayfinding widgets like breadcrumbs on lower-level pages so the user can self-locate and retrace their path–but that doesn’t seem adequate here. Our clients need to figure out how to design for paths that flow smoothly both “up” and “down” and how to explicitly attract users to navigate upward.
Calls to action need to draw users both directions depending on what they’re doing, and site architects need to assume that users will climb in any and every window before they come knocking on the front door.

What’s the answer? We don’t know yet, but we’re thinking hard about it.
Turning thing upside-down is what the revolution is all about after all.

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