Organization Schemes

We navigate through organization schemes every day. Telephone books, supermarkets, and television programming guides all use organization schemes to facilitate access. Some schemes are easy to use. We rarely have difficulty finding a friend’s phone number in the alphabetical organization scheme of the white pages. Some schemes are intensely frustrating. Trying to find marshmallows or popcorn in a large and unfamiliar supermarket can drive us crazy. Are marshmallows in the snack aisle, the baking ingredients section, both, or neither?

In fact, the organization schemes of the phone book and the supermarket are fundamentally different. The alphabetical organization scheme of the phone book’s white pages is exact. The hybrid topical/task-oriented organization scheme of the supermarket is ambiguous.

Exact Organization Schemes

Let’s start with the easy ones. Exact organization schemes divide information into well-defined and mutually exclusive sections. The alphabetical organization of the phone book’s white pages is a perfect example. If you know the last name of the person you are looking for, navigating the scheme is easy. “Porter” is in the P’s which is after the O’s but before the Q’s. This is called known-item searching. You know what you’re looking for, and it’s obvious where to find it. No ambiguity is involved. The problem with exact organization schemes is that they require the user to know the specific name of the resource they are looking for. The white pages ...

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