Taming Taxonomy Interview with Jessica DuVerneay and Alberta Soranzo

Last month's Los Angeles User Experience Meetup event regarding Taxonomy offered the Media Contour team an excellent opportunity to learn about and develop a better understanding of website taxonomy. Media Contour had the chance to conduct a pre-show interview with speakers Jessica DuVerneay and Alberta Soranzo.Jessica DuVerneay is an information architect at the Understanding Group. Alberta Soranzo is both the manager of user experience and strategy at the UCLA Center for Health Policy and Research and senior information architect at the RFK Center for Justice and Human Rights. They are both highly regarded in the fields of information architecture and user experience. Below are excerpts from the interview which cover the main ideas of their presentation.

Why Add Taxonomy to a Website

The first major topic of discussion focused on the core definition of taxonomy in the context of website design.

JESSICA DUVERNEAY: The first thing I want to say is that it's not something you just add to your project. It's not like if you get this service you should get this service too, and if you get wireframes, you might as well get functional specs. At least that’s the way that I look at it. It’s like, is it even a problem? For some clients it may not be a problem. If you're working in a really small property and your language is very clear, very domain specific or there's industry standards that are really easy to follow, not everybody needs a taxonomy. It is more for you know the thing that I'm seeing, why it's really relevant right now is because so many people are taking their old kind of main site and they are trying, they are realizing that the strategy of creating 15 micro-sites each time they have a new launch or a new iteration of a product. It has not been serving them well because they have confusing language. Something is called a shirt over here, it is called a blouse over here. You can't track SEO events. And really, I mean if you are going to look at it from a high level taxonomy, it just gives you an agreed upon structure that increases learnability and the findability of the your content on your website. That is the high level answer.

“Something is called a shirt over here, it is called a blouse over here. You can't track SEO events.” Jessica Duverneay

Practices of Taxonomy

The second major topic allowed for the team to distinguish between the traditional meaning of the word taxonomy and the meaning of how it is used for websites. Here we learn that taxonomy is inherent of its company culture.

ALBERTA SORANZO: I think it is tricky because we use the word 'taxonomy' which is a scientific word. And so if you look at taxonomies in science, you think of taxonomy as a categorization. That is generally how people understand it. In sciences the categorization of things is relatively simple because we construct families and you can easily place objects in one group rather than another. When we think of a taxonomy for a website, we deal with meaning and perception, which are highly subjective concepts. Which is why research—reviewing existing taxonomies, keyword research, user and vernacular research, is crucial to building a meaningful taxonomy. The goal, when building taxonomies, is to essentially identify and outline a consensus of meanings.

Taxonomy As a Service

The third significant topic discussed was how taxonomy is provided as a service. Understanding taxonomy as a step in the website design process supports the practice and reason for it in the first place.

JESSICA DUVERNEAY: We have had clients come to us and say we need a taxonomy. “When our team is writing an article they are using eight different words for the same thing in the article titles and it is really confusing to our consumers.” My consultancy never really try to sell taxonomy. Clients come to us with their problems and we say here are the activities that we can do to mitigate these issues. So somebody comes to us and they do not know what to label things. We have all these different things and they are called different things in different places. We are like, oh, it sounds like you might need some taxonomy work then it is our job to do the burden of proof -- here is why this is a problem and here is a case study where this has helped a client in the past.This pre-show interview was the perfect lead into this beginning / mid level practitioner-focused event. A case study was presented to provide an example of how to create and implement a successful taxonomy. A tool demo and peer to peer learning activity provided the chance for audience members to learn through application. The speakers and the audience members acted as one in the peer to peer learning group to help fully realize everything taxonomy has to offer for a website. Overall it was an excellent opportunity for the members of the Los Angeles Web Design Community to learn about taxonomy. Many thanks to Jessica DuVerneay and Alberta Soranzo and the The Los Angeles User Experience Meetup. A stream of the event can be found here: http://vimeo.com/66485666.http://vimeo.com/66485666