Alanis Morissette needs help with her Information Architecture

Do you ever get earworms? Do you wake up singing a song and you can’t get it out of your head?

Well, I get them all the time and yesterday I woke up singing “Isn’t it Ironic” by Alanis Morissette. I was thinking about all the things that she lumps under the category Ironic and I thought to myself “No Alanis, it isn’t ironic in the slightest!”

Then I started to think about Information Architecture (it’s a fun place, my brain) and how it’s important to group content properly so that users can easily find what they are looking for. If we were to take Alanis’ approach to IA we’d have websites with a single menu item called Stuff and we’d have to figure out for ourselves what was in there.

So I have applied a little bit of IA best practice to make sense of this Irony nonsense.

Identify possible content groups

First I looked at the content and thought about what words best described what I had. I came up with this:

  • An old man turned ninety-eight. He won the lottery and died the next day     [ Sad / Tragic ]
  • It’s a black fly in your Chardonnay     [ Annoying ]
  • It’s a death row pardon two minutes too late     [ Sad / Tragic / Irrelevant ]
  • It’s like rain on your wedding day     [ Disappointing ]
  • It’s a free ride when you’ve already paid     [ Frustrating / Irrelevant ]
  • It’s the good advice that you just didn’t take     [ Foolhardy ]
  • He waited his whole damn life to take that flight. And as the plane crashed down he thought “Well, isn’t this nice.”     [ Sad /  Tragic ]
  • A traffic jam when you’re already late     [ Frustrating / Irrelevant ]
  • A no-smoking sign on your cigarette break     [ Annoying / Frustrating ]
  • It’s like ten thousand spoons when all you need is a knife     [ Frustrating / Irrelevant ]
  • It’s meeting the man of my dreams and then meeting his beautiful wife     [ Disappointing / Frustrating ]

Test for common patterns

Once I had defined a list of possible descriptive words I conducted an online card sorting test with real people to find out if there were any common grouping patterns.

Online card sorting

Define a common structure

Finally, I took the feedback from the user research and created a new structure for the content that means more to the majority of people.

Irrelevant:

  • It’s a free ride when you’ve already paid

Tragic:

  • An old man turned ninety-eight. He won the lottery and died the next day
  • He waited his whole damn life to take that flight. And as the plane crashed down he thought “Well, isn’t this nice.”
  • It’s a death row pardon two minutes too late

Disappointing:

  • It’s meeting the man of my dreams and then meeting his beautiful wife
  • It’s like rain on your wedding day

Annoying:

  • A no-smoking sign on your cigarette break
  • It’s like ten thousand spoons when all you need is a knife
  • It’s a black fly in your Chardonnay
  • A traffic jam when you’re already late

Foolhardy:

  • It’s the good advice that you just didn’t take

So what’s the point of all this?

Apart from the fact that the only thing ironic about that particular song is the title, it shows that with a little bit of thinking and talking it is possible to quickly create some semblance of order from a seemingly unfathomable clump of content.

If it works for a song it can work for a website so try this quick process out on your own content:

  • Get everything out in front and roughly identify possible groups
  • Give your groups and content to other people and watch for common patterns
  • Use your common patterns as the base for new structure
  • Keep testing and refining until you are sure you have it right