TQR — Denton’s Three Questions and Four Principles and an Observation of My Own.

Recently I wrote about Denton’s How to Make a Faceted Classification and Put it on the Web. In sec­tion 4 he intro­duces three ques­tions and four prin­ci­ples that pro­vide use­ful guid­ance when imple­ment­ing nav­i­ga­tion sys­tems for infor­ma­tion archi­tec­tures that rely on faceted classification.

The three ques­tions step through some basic ques­tions that you need to answer before you set out to design your nav­i­ga­tion system.

  1. Are you design­ing for free nav­i­ga­tion (aka brows­ing) or nav­i­ga­tion by selec­tion (aka searching)?
  2. What are your facets like?
  3. Will you give the user con­trol over the cita­tion order?

Characterizing your facets in ques­tion 2 is the tricky one. How may facets you have, how they relate to each oth­er, how even­ly the foci are dis­trib­uted, etc. will all inform your deci­sions when design­ing a nav­i­ga­tion sys­tem. Unfortunately there isn’t a check list that match­es facet char­ac­ter­is­tics to best nav­i­ga­tion design. You’ll have to experiment.

When think­ing about your design deci­sions Denton offers the four fol­low­ing principles

  1. Do not allow the user to cre­ate a query with no results.
  2. Show the user where they are.
  3. Make it easy to adjust or refine the query.
  4. Use the URL as the nota­tion for the classification.

I can quib­ble with the details. (A null return is use­ful — if you can show the user which parts of the query have results and which don’t.) But the prin­ci­ples are always valid points to consider.

I par­tic­u­lar­ly love his fourth prin­ci­ple — that the URL should be a human under­stand­able rep­re­sen­ta­tion of the foci loaded into the facets that got the user to the cur­rent loca­tion. Technically a roy­al pain in the ass to cre­ate and some would claim use­ful only to uber-geeks But think on it. How often have you gone to a book­marked page and then chopped of the URL’s tail or altered a word or two to get to some place when you did­n’t fell like typ­ing some big ole URL? How often have you been frus­trat­ed in the attempt?

The par­tic­u­lar cul­prit in most cas­es of incom­pre­hen­si­ble URLs is dynam­ic web pages — AJAX, PHP, and all their data­base gen­er­at­ed con­tent friends.

A recent client was dri­ven nuts by the fact that when she viewed her site sta­tis­tics the page names dis­played as:


ProdID116 was utter­ly mean­ing­less to her. As were 95% of the oth­er page names. There was no easy way to force the use of a rea­son­able fac­sim­i­le of the prod­uct name in the URL. Complex kludg­ing ensued; reports were gen­er­at­ed. But not as fre­quent­ly or accu­rate­ly as they should have been. All very unsatisfactory.