Single Labels for Diverse Content: an Impossible Task

In website redesign projects that I've led, I've often encountered the problems associated with ambiguous organization schemes. As Rosenfeld points out, while there are other organization schemes, it's almost impossible to rely on a single solution. A combination of approaches is often best.

When I redesigned the top-level of a few years ago, I recognized that one of the broad audience groups that would use the website were outsiders who didn't work for the Laboratory but who would want to interact with the Lab in some way. That group included scientists wanting to come to the Lab to use one of its facilities (in the same way that you might want to temporarily rent a car for a few days); investors looking to commercialize one of the Lab's patented technologies; people who live in the vicinity of the Lab that want to speak to the Community Relations staff to ask questions or visit the Lab; vendors who want to become suppliers to the Lab for anything from machine parts to coffee service; and lastly, students and teachers who want to become involved with one of the Lab's many education programs. That's a very diverse group of external audiences. I needed to find a way to combine them under one banner that would make sense to each of those groups so that they could be connected to the appropriate online content.

After first rejecting "Work With Us," the solution that I came up with was to create a global navigation topic labeled "Partner With Us." While that label satisfies the need for a single short phrase that encompasses all of the constituent groups, it might not be interpreted correctly by the very groups that it's meant to assist with site navigation. For instance, scientists looking to use a research facility might not associate what they want to do as "partnering." They might instead by thinking of a phrase like "sign up for a facility" or "become a facility user." I could have been more specific for the scientific audience, but that would then exclude the other audiences and necessitate the addition of more global navigation categories. That wasn't acceptable since the goal was to keep the total number of categories under seven. Would local teachers think of the word "partnering" when looking for what educational programs the Lab offers? Maybe not, but again, it's the same problem that I faced with the scientist group. Of course, anyone clicking on the "Partner with Us" topic would be taken to a landing page with a complete explanation of what's offered to each of the target groups.

Obviously, this is an imperfect solution if the goal is to guarantee that each audience is connected to the right information which is why I augmented the site navigation with a secondary…and a tertiary navigation mechanism--what Rosenfeld calls a polyhierarchical scheme. The home page features an explicit "audience sorter" that simply says "Resources for…" that lists each target audience and connects them directly to relevant content. Failing that, there's also a list of facilities available for use that scientists can choose from.