Taxonomy: Open, Closed, Fluid

Taxonomy is one method of abstracting content to help us organize it. I use it all the time to help me categorize and prioritize content – research findings, ideas generated from a brainstorm, anything.

I came across this great article on UX Taxonomies in my reading list backlog and wanted to share it with you all. Taxonomies can help designers organize content, but can also help users find content, involving them in your brand, site or experience more deeply. Below are some great tips from the article!

To get started, think about a card sort.

When it comes to developing the list of terms you will use, a card sort can be a good starting point. Through this usability method, you can learn how users would organize your content and what labels they would assign to each category—information commonly used to inform sitemap development but just as useful when building out a taxonomy.

When you have a taxonomy developing, finding links and connections between your categories can help you serve up additional content:

Relating and reusing content across multiple platforms and site installations. For example, part of your content strategy is to build a stronger connection between your website and your blog, which just happen to be driven by different content management systems. Taxonomy can help. Assuming you’re using the same taxonomy terms in both systems, you can still dynamically relate content using a tool like RSS, pulling relevant blog posts into web pages that are categorized with the same terms.

Taxonomies can be internal or user facing. Both require some consideration:

Keep in mind that implementing or revising a taxonomy can require change management. Choosing well-researched and tested vocabularies can support an intuitive user experience, but may also require some guidance—instructional content on the administrative interface, for example—for content authors and managers. They may be used to using the organization’s internal terms, not the terms site visitors are using when looking for information, to define content.

User-driven taxonomies can help your community feel more engaged and drive deeper involvement:

You may decide that users, not your organization, are going to define how your content is classified and labeled. Take a look at Goodreads, a social network for readers. You start with the simplest of taxonomies: three default bookshelves called “read,” “currently-reading” and “to-read.” From there, you can create and name other bookshelves, or categories, from the basic “science fiction” to the clever “it-was-earth-all-along,” and place books on more than one shelf.

This approach empowers Goodreads to support discovery in many ways. For example, on each book’s page, you can see a “Genres” callout showing how readers most often classified the book.

Card sorting is a great way to start from a user perspective or even for an internal effort. It’s amazing how helpful having a clear, abstracted and networked taxonometric organization for your information can be.

Daniel Stillman
  • Natalya
    Posted at 12:05h, 23 May Reply

    Daniel, thanks so much for sharing my article! I’m so glad you found it useful, and I hope your readers do too.

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