I write about content centred design in my article as it applies to content sets such as ISO management system standards in intranets. Content is what an intranet should be all about. Intranets should be honest, minimalist systems for connecting users and content without the flim-flam you can encounter in some internet sites. Content must be current, relevant and complete, thats a given, but there is more. Content must be viewed as a stakeholder.
Content has been developed by a human to speak to other humans therefore it must be recognised that content has a structure and a purpose which is independent of the user or web designer. This fact is probably more obvious when you are looking at intranet design as an organisation’s policies, procedures, guidance, technical information etc are obviously valuable company assets. I’ve been thinking as to whether this is also the case in the larger world of web design and the internet.
There is a striking case where web design has run roughshod over the structure and purpose of content and that is in online dictionaries. Dr. Johnson’s dictionary of 1755 was an alphabetical dictionary. The structure of the content allowed users to access entries so long as they knew the first letter or couple of letters. Most of the online dictionaries I have seen have disregarded this aspect altogether and consist of a simple search box with lots of adverts. While the search box is fine if you know the word and its exact spelling, it is absolutely useless in other cases.
If I wanted to know that word that begins ‘per’ and means a way of looking at things, how does a search box help me find the word ‘perspective’? The alphabetical dictionary has been around for a long time and with good reason – it works. Any design of an online dictionary that ignores this fact makes for a poorer user experience. As well as a search box there should always be the option to view the content in the way it was originally structured – alphabetically.
But if I’m honest opening up a dictionary at a random page and reading down a list of words connected only by the fact that they happen to have some of the same letters is a real pleasure for me. It is serendipity in action when you find a new and beautiful word. Unfortunately a pleasure denied me and others by most online versions of the dictionary.