Apples and Tomatoes

Just discovered an environmentally friendly online store with terrific products and confusing design.  I’m planning to write a series of posts about this site to explain some of the concepts of information arrangement.  It’s a real Website maintained by environmental retailers for online sales.

Product links and the usual navigation links are in one list along the left side of the page.  That list follows this posting.  Except for the initial entry, it’s in alphabetical order.  Home Page and About Us are the first categories, followed by some products.  Within the alphabetical list are two more navigation categories, Contact Us and Links.  Conventional Web design might place these four categories in a navigation bar across the top of the page.  But we’re not interested in conventional Web design.  We’re interested in information arrangement and this list is confusing.

At first glance, the structure seems to be for typical navigation because Home Page and About Us are the top categories.  But then I see Adhesives & Strippers in third place and now I’m in products.  So I’m reading along the list, thinking I’m in products, and out jumps Contact Us in the C’s.  That’s not a product and by now my mind is distracted from shopping and more stuff invades my brain, like how come Contact Us isn’t with the other navigation categories and how come they aren’t in a separate bar across the top of the page?

Since I’m distracted, even more stuff invades my brain, like visiting another site or getting back to an important project.  So much for that environmental sale.  But let’s say I decide to keep on reading the list.  Now I know the navigation links are scattered among the product links.  Since I am looking for two things, I am not fully focused on buying.  As it happens, the Links link in the L’s is the last purely navigational category, but I don’t know that.  So my attention is divided between buying and navigating all the way down to Vacuum Cleaners.

The site owners were probably trying to make things easy.  After all, everyone understands alphabetical order.  However, by combining the apples and tomatoes of wildly different category types, they only managed to add one more obstacle on the perilous journey to checkout.

This is a simple exercise.  Most Web sites separate typical navigation links from content links.  But information arrangement is practiced in many forms and many situations.  When you build a structure, the first step is to think about what is being organized and then base your arrangement on that analysis.  The fact that all your categories contain words doesn’t mean they all belong in the same alphabet.

Here’s the original list of categories.

Home Page

About Us

Adhesives & Strippers

Air Purification

Allergy Relief

Baby Products

Bathroom Care

Carpet Care

Clean Air Safe Room

Clear Finishes & Stains

Contact Us

Cotton/Wool Bedding

Disinfect & Deodorize

Emergency Water Damage

Furnace Filters

Furniture Care

General Cleaning

Hard Floor Care

Home Test Kits


Infrared Thermography

In Home Consultation

Kitchen Care

Laundry Care


Mattress & Pillow Protectors

Mold Inspection

Natural Bamboo Flooring

Natural Cork Flooring

Natural Hardwood Flooring

Natural Linoleum Flooring

Natural Mattresses

Natural Wool Carpet

Organic Cotton Sheets

Organic Cotton Towels

Paints & Primers

Personal Air Purification

Personal Care

Pest & Insect Control

Pet Care

Professional Carpet Cleaning

Replacement Filters

Salt Crystal Lamps


Vacuum Cleaners

Jul 2006