The following is extracted from Jakob Nielsen's weekly newsletter on usability.


While in London for last week's conference, I stopped by the British Museum. Among other exhibits, I saw King George III's collection of antique coins. Because this was part of an exhibition about the growth of knowledge during the Enlightenment period, the collection was shown in the way the King had organized it.

His Roman coins were sorted chronologically, which is the same system the Museum uses to this day. But the Greek coins were sorted alphabetically according to the name of the ruler depicted on the coin. This meant that coins issued at the same time would be in widely varying parts of the collection. It also meant that coins minted in the same city state would be dispersed across the collection. Not surprisingly, the British Museum no longer uses George III's system for its collection (except for this special exhibit).

Information architecture lessons:

  1. Alphabetical order is usually a bad way to structure items.
  2. For a better structure, you need to understand the underlying dimensions of interest (the King didn't know enough about ancient Greece to correctly place the coins in time and space).
  3. New info may cause you to restructure things for better access.
  4. Two or more structuring principles may be better than a single one.

I think we can excuse George III for knowing too little about IA, but it's amazing how many websites and intranets are still structured like the bad part of his collection.

See also 6 Ways to Fix a Confused Information Architecture


So why is this relevant to Maple? Easy: the information on the context-sensitive menus has (recently!) been change to be ordered alphabetically!

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