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Saturday, 26 January 2002

Topic: "Goal-Oriented Navigation Design for Online Information"

About the Event

Workshop Objectives

Attendees will learn

  • How to represent navigational elements in terms of user goals.
  • How to develop a task organization model based on feedback from users.
  • How to do a card sorting study and how to base information categories on user feedback.
  • Pros and cons of broad versus deep information hierarchies.
  • Pros and cons of common navigational metaphors.
  • How to design screens so that users can effectively scan for information.
  • How to conduct a usability test of a navigation design and how to interpret testing results.

Intended Audience

Technical communicators, information architects, and user interface designers who develop interfaces for help systems, websites, or other content delivery systems.

Seminar Overview

photo of desire lineThe photo on the right illustrates the essential problem of navigation design. Someone has built a perfectly functional staircase, yet a dirt path (a "desire line") is being worn into the hillside. This is a clear example of navigation design that doesn't address its users' goals.

The basic idea behind goal-oriented navigation design is simply this: "put the paths where people want to go." In goal-oriented navigation designs, the elements of the navigation design are representations of user goals. These designs bring together a user's representation of a goal (how the user thinks about what he or she is trying to do) with the system's representation of that goal.

This goal-oriented approach is a natural extension of user-centered design, a methodology for achieving optimal usability in software and information designs. Nevertheless, it's common to find designs that are fundamentally flawed because they lack grounding in user goals. These include designs based on feature-orientation (which forces users to think in terms of marketing features), technology-orientation (which forces users to think in terms of underlying technology), and "org-chart-orientation" (which forces users to think of information in terms of the department that provided it).

This workshop covers the principles and methodologies of user-centered design as they relate to the design of navigation for online information. The emphasis is on how to translate an understanding of user goals into an effective information design. The format includes discussion of design principles, examples from case studies, presentation of relevant human factors research, hands-on exercises, and group discussion. The examples and exercises focus primarily on websites and help system, though many of the principles may be applied to other media.

Program Flyer for Posting on Bulletin Boards

Flyer PDF (1.6 MB)    Flyer zip (1.5 MB)    Flyer black and white PDF (1 MB)    Flyer black and white zip (1.1 MB)


The full-day workshop is presented in the following five sections. Each section includes a presentation of design principles and examples, an exercise in which attendees (working in small groups) apply the principles to a specific design problem, and some time for group discussion.

Part 1: Representing user goals in an information design
  • Goal-orientation: What is goal-orientation? How does it differ from other approaches, such as feature-orientation, technology-orientation, and "org-chart-orientation"?
  • Goal-representation: How to represent a user goal in an information design. Examples of textual representations and graphical representations.
  • Task-organization models: How do users think of the inter-relationships among tasks. How to do card sort studies to develop hierarchical representations of how users think of tasks.
Part 2: Organizing information hierarchies
  • Depth vs. breadth in organizational hierarchies: A review of the research comparing deep vs. broad information hierarchies. The role of short-term memory and scanning ability.
  • Categorization of navigational elements: Considerations for grouping navigational elements into lists. How to relate navigational hierarchies to task organization models.
  • Ordering of lists of navigational elements: Considerations for ordering navigational elements within lists.
Part 3: Choosing navigational metaphors
  • Basic software metaphors: Progressive disclosure, guided interaction, immersive environments, and search
  • Metaphors for information access: Design considerations for tables of contents, indexes, and search interfaces.
  • Special considerations for online help: Design considerations unique to online help systems, including access to the help system, "do it for me" functionality, and concurrent use of help with functional interfaces.
  • Navigational user interface elements: Design considerations for frames, tabs, bread crumbs, and "you are here" indicators.
Part 4: Designing for scanning
  • Information mapping: How to facilitate navigation to specific chunks of information by grouping related elements of information and visually representing the relationships between functional units.
  • Legibility: Factors affecting the legibility of on-screen text.
  • Eye movement: A brief summary of scanning tendencies based on research tracking eye movement.
Part 5: Usability testing of navigation designs
  • Navigation testing methodology: How to test prototypes of navigation designs and interpret findings from testing.

Workshop Handouts

Attendees will receive:

  • Workshop agenda
  • Copies of PowerPoint slides for all the presentations
  • Deck of cards (small slips of paper in a rubber band) for the task organization model exercise
  • Deck of cards for the information categorization exercise

Don't forget your business cards for networking and books for the book drive!

About the Speaker

photo of Kevin Knabe

Kevin Knabe has over 13 years of experience as a writer, usability engineer, and user interface designer. He and his wife, Kristy, are principals in their consulting company, Knabe Design ( For ten years, Kevin worked at Apple Computer, where he was the lead designer for the online help system for the Mac OS. He has designed several e-commerce websites, including CDNOW, where he managed the user interface department for two years. Currently he works as a user experience engineer for The Vanguard Group, designing web-based financial applications. Kevin has given presentations and seminars on information design for the STC, CHI, and the Usability Professionals' Association—and recently developed a usability course for Penn State's technical communications program. Kevin holds a Master of Arts in Professional Writing degree from Carnegie Mellon University.


8:30 Registration and breakfast
9:00 Introduction
9:30 Representing user goals in an information design
10:30 Break
10:45 Organizing information hierarchies
11:45 Lunch
12:15 Navigational metaphors
1:15 Designing for scanning
2:15 Break
2:30 Usability testing of navigation designs
3:30 Wrap-up
4:00 End

Detailed Schedule

Introduction (30 minutes)

  • Agenda and around-the-room introductions.

Representing user goals in an information design (60 minutes)

  • Examples of how designers sometimes fail to represent user goals and tasks in information designs (through function-orientation, brand-orientation, org chart orientation, representation of low-level system tasks, and inappropriate visual representations).
  • Considerations for labeling user goals (brevity, predictability, and differentiation).
  • Exercise 1: The instructor shows examples of navigational elements that are not goal-oriented and asks the class to rephrase each element in terms of a user goal.
  • Brief discussion of contextual task analysis. Discussion of task organization models.
  • Exercise 2. Attendees will receive a deck of about 20 cards, each with a task related to buying gasoline at a self-serve gas station (e.g., "choose octane," "park car," "swipe credit card"). Working in pairs, attendees will sort the cards into stacks, then sketch a hierarchical model of the overall task.
  • Group discussion of exercise 2.

Organizing information hierarchies (60 minutes)

  • Discussion of research on depth versus breadth in information hierarchies, the role of short-term memory, the role of scanning.
  • Considerations for grouping and ordering items in lists.
  • Exercise 3: Attendees will receive a deck of cards, each with the name of a link on a website. Working in pairs, attendees will group the cards by placing them in stacks, name each of the stacks, and put the stacks in order.
  • Group discussion of exercise 3.

Navigational metaphors (60 minutes)

  • Discussion of the pros and cons of basic software navigational metaphors, with examples of multi-page hierarchies, single-page hierarchies, tabs, outlines, dynamic drill-down interfaces, bread crumb trails, step-by-step guidance, immersive environments, place metaphors, and anthropomorphic metaphors.
  • Discussion of the common metaphors for information access-tables of contents, indexes, and search-with examples from help systems and websites.
  • Discussion of navigational issues specifically related to online help systems, with examples taken from Windows Help and Mac OS Help.
  • Exercise 4: Using the content categories they created in exercise 3, attendees will construct a simple paper prototype of the website (incorporating one or more of the navigational metaphors discussed).
  • Group discussion of exercise 4.

Designing for scanning (60 minutes)

  • Discussion of factors affecting legibility of on-screen text.
  • Discussion of information mapping at the page level—how to break information on a page down into functional units and choose a style of presentation for each unit.
  • Exercise 5: Attendees will be presented with an example of a page of poorly mapped online documentation (a big paragraph of text) and create a paper prototype of a redesign.
  • Group discussion of exercise 5.

Usability testing of navigation designs (90 minutes)

  • Brief discussion of basic usability testing methodology.
  • Discussion of task design for usability testing of online documentation.
  • Exercise 6: Attendees will observe a brief usability study focusing on a navigation design. The instructor will facilitate the study, and three attendees will be volunteer participants. Attendees will take notes during the study.
  • Group discussion of findings from the usability test.

Wrap-up (30 minutes)


Continental breakfast, deli lunch, and beverages provided.


STC members: $95
Administrative Council members: $85
Student members or nonmember students: $50
Nonmembers: $110
Receive a $10 discount if you register by January 4, 2002!


photo of the NRECA conference center

National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA) Conference Center
4301 Wilson Boulevard
Arlington VA  22203
Phone: 703-907-5939

Map and directions to National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA) Conference Center in Arlington, VA.

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