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Chapter 3

Design for finding
Information architecture starts with people and the reason they come to your site or use your app: they have an information need.
information needs
Information needs can vary widely, and each type of information need causes people to exhibit specific information-seeking behaviors. It’s important that you understand those needs and behaviors, and shape your designs to correspond accordingly. There is no goal more important to designing information architecture than to satisfy peoples’ needs.
let's go fishing:
the four types of information needs

The perfect catch

Known Item Seeking

Sometimes users really are looking for the right answer. Let’s think of that as fishing with a pole, hoping to hook that ideal fish. What is the population of San Marino? You go to Wikipedia or some other useful site that’s jam-packed with data, and you hook in that number (it’s 32,576, by the way, according to the latest estimate).

lobster trapping

Exploratory Seeking

What about the times you’re looking for more than just a single answer? Let’s say you’re hoping to find out about good bed-and-breakfast inns in Stratford, Ontario. Or you want to learn something about Lewis and Clark’s journey of exploration. Or you need to get a sense of what sort of financial plans can help you save for retirement. You don’t really know much about what you’re looking for, and aren’t ready to commit to retrieving anything more than just a few useful items, or suggestions of where to learn more. You’re not hoping to hook the perfect fish, because you wouldn’t know it if you caught it. Instead, you’re setting out the equivalent of a lobster trap—you hope that whatever ambles in will be useful, and if it is, that’s good enough.

net fishing

Exhaustive Research

Then there are times when you want to leave no stone unturned in your search for information on a topic. You may be doing research for a doctoral thesis, or performing competitive intelligence analysis, or learning about the medical condition affecting a close friend, or, heck, ego surfing. In these cases, you want to catch every fish in the sea, so you cast your driftnets and drag up everything you can.

i've seen you before


There’s some information that you’d prefer to never lose track of, so you’ll tag it so you can find it again. Thanks to social bookmarking and collection services like Pinterest, it’s possible to toss a fish back in the sea with the expectation of finding it again.

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information-seeking behaviors
How do website users find information? They enter queries in search systems, browse from link to link, and ask humans for help (through email, chat interfaces, etc.). Searching, browsing, and asking are all methods for finding, and these are the basic building blocks of information-seeking behavior.
There are two other major aspects to seeking behaviors: integration and iteration. We often integrate searching, browsing, and asking in the same finding session. One may also go through substantial iteration during one finding session. After all, we don’t always get things right the first time. And our information needs may change along the way, causing us to try new approaches with each new iteration.
"berry-picking" model
Users start with an information need, formulate an information request (a query), and then move iteratively through an information system along potentially complex paths, picking bits of information (“berries”) along the way. In the process, they modify their information requests as they learn more about what they need and what information is available from the system.
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"pearl-growing" approach
Another useful model is the “pearl-growing” approach. Users start with one or a few good documents that are exactly what they need. They want to get “more like this one.” To meet this need, Google and many other search engines allow users to do just that: Google provides a command called “Similar pages” next to each search result. A similar approach is to allow users to link from a “good” document to documents indexed with the same keywords.
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