Chapter 7. Labeling Systems

Now the LORD God had formed out of the ground all the wild animals and all the birds in the sky. He brought them to the man to see what he would name them; and whatever the man called each living creature, that was its name.

Genesis 2:19

In this chapter, we’ll cover:

  • What labeling is and why it’s important

  • Common types of labels

  • Guidelines for developing labels

  • Sources of inspiration for your labeling system

Labeling is a form of representation. Just as we use spoken words to represent concepts and thoughts, we use labels to represent larger chunks of information in our information environments. For example, “Contact Us” is a label that represents a chunk of content, often including a contact name, an address, and telephone, fax, and email information. You cannot present all this information quickly and effectively on an already crowded web page without overwhelming impatient people who might not actually need that information. Instead, a label like “Contact Us” works as a shortcut that triggers the right association in someone’s mind without presenting all that stuff prominently. The person can then decide whether to click through or read on to get more contact information. So, the goal of a label is to communicate information efficiently—that is, to convey meaning without taking up too much of a page’s physical space or the user’s cognitive space.

Unlike the weather, hardly anyone ever talks about labeling (aside from a few deranged librarians, ...

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