Format-based navigation is a symptom of organization-centricity

Navigation based on formats, tools or systems is a sure sign that an organization is not customer focused.


Some time ago, we were testing a website that had a link in its navigation called “Resources”. It was a classic dirty magnet—a link that sends people in the wrong direction. We told the organization about the problem and the manager admitted that they already knew about it. However, she said they weren’t going to change anything because Resources represented an organizational team that prepared videos and other multimedia. They were pretty powerful and they wanted their own section on the site.


Lots of websites are organized based on internal departments or team structures. Dell is a famous example. Back in 2001, Dell allowed you to simply choose “Desktop” or “Laptop” on the homepage because it knew that’s how customers like to buy. But soon after it began forcing you to choose Home or Business or some other segment that reflected its organizational unit structure.


What is more convenient for the organization is nearly always less convenient for the customer. Recently, I visited the International Monetary Fund website. It has a link in its main navigation called “Videos”. Why? Do you think that’s to make it easier for people to navigate the website? Do you think people are desperately searching for an IMF video? “Oh, I haven’t seen a video in days. And an IMF video? I just love their production standards! And their special effects are so wow!”


Unfortunately, video teams often think that way. To a video team, it’s the video that matters. They want a section called Videos because it’s good for the ego to have your own section on the website.


In many organizations, the social media team sees itself as a rival of the web team. There is competition to see who can get more traffic, or who can look coolest in front of senior management. Internal rivalries are a guaranteed way to ruin the customer experience.


I was once criticised by a techie for mistakenly calling something content. “It’s not content,” he told me irritably. “It’s part of an app.” And they kept their apps in a section called “Tools” because it was easier for them to manage and everyone could see how many cool apps they had.


The same happens with systems. On large technical websites you will often find a “Knowledge Base”. (What’s the opposite of a Knowledge Base? An Idiot Hub?) This incredibly meaningless and utterly confusing term describes software that stores documents and files. (A document management system.)


Many websites are a confusing mix of different software systems that are rarely connected and often using different names for the same thing. For example, product information can often be found on 5 or more different systems / sections of a technology website.


Recently, we completed a top tasks study with the European Commission. We found that on average each task was shared by 12 different departments within the Commission. So, if you were dealing with Law, for example, you might have to go to 12 or more places to find what you were looking for.


The European Commission has recognized that it must simplify and a key way to do that is to create a navigation structure that is customer-centric. The first step in moving away from organization thinking on the Web is to move away from organization structure.



European Commission: Building a common information architecture – first steps

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