Information Architecture: Webpage Mental Maps Emerge

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When people come to your website they have a mental map of how their ‘ideal’ webpage should be. They expect to see certain things in certain places. They expect to read certain killer words in your classification and content. The more you meet their mental map, the more successful your website will be.

Whenever I do information architecture workshops, I ask people to pretend that they’re ET–Stephen Spielberg’s friendly extraterrestrial–for a moment. Remember that famous line ET had: “ET phone home.” Well, pretend you are ET and that you’re on the Web. You want to get back to the homepage. Where would you look for the link for Home?

In the bottom left of the page? In the top right? In the bottom right? In the middle? Or, in the top left? I have gone through this simple exercise with several thousand people in over 20 countries. I have never found a situation where less than 95 percent of them did not expect to find the Home link in the top left.

If the vast majority of people expect to see a Home link in the top left, shouldn’t you have it there on your webpages? It’s not enough that your logo is a link to your homepage, as many people will not know this. An Australian lady told me recently that she had tested her corporate website with 64 people and that 64 out of 64 did not know that the logo linked to the homepage. So, you need to spell it out: Home.

I have devised a technique for classification design. It’s called Gut Instinct Classification Approach (GICA). I give people an exercise to choose the top ten links they would expect to see on an example homepage. Then I ask them to score these links, giving 10 to the most important, 9 to the next most important and so on.

A significant number of people give a score of 10 to Home and 1 or 2 to Contact Us. It seems strange, doesn’t it, that some people will give 10 to Home even on the homepage itself. Strange until you understand that people have mental maps of webpages.

Perhaps the reason that people give 10 to Home and 1 to Contact Us has to do with where they expect to find these classifications on the page. A great many websites now start their classification list with Home. Contact Us is usually found near the end of the list. From reading a lot of websites they have developed a mental map.

For those who design interfaces, these mental maps are no surprise. Consider the Microsoft interface. “File, Edit, View, Insert …” It’s the same for Microsoft Word, Excel, PowerPoint and FrontPage. This interface is a core competitive advantage for Microsoft. Millions have it imprinted like a map on their brains. You could blindfold them and they would still be able to click on File.

The Web is very much about navigation–moving from one place to another. By going to lots and lots of websites you begin to build a mental map. The more a new website reflects this mental map, the more comfortable you will feel with it. On the Web, it’s always good to know where Home is.

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For your web content management solution, contact Gerry McGovern http://www.gerrymcgovern.com

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Information Architecture: Webpage Mental Maps Emerge
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