List ordering: alphabetical vs. logical?

4 Feb 2009 - 11:20am
5 years ago
27 replies
4347 reads
dmitryn
2004

Does anyone know of any studies, tests, or standards of practice that
discuss when to organize a list of items in alphabetical order vs.
another designed order (such as one based on expected frequency of
use)?

I'm most interested in this topic for web site navigation, but
applicable references for other contexts (e.g. menu design in desktop
applications) would also be appreciated.

Thanks,

Dmitry

Comments

4 Feb 2009 - 11:27am
Elizabeth Buie
2004

Dmitry asks:

>Does anyone know of any studies, tests, or standards of practice that
>discuss when to organize a list of items in alphabetical order vs.
>another designed order (such as one based on expected frequency of
>use)?

Alphabetical ordering is, under most circumstances, appropriate when there is no logical order based on similarity or relatedness. It is a logical order for something like countries or states in e-commerce, although even there I can imagine situations in which you'd want to group states or countries by region first and then order them alphabetically within the group.

Frequency of use is not a logical order, either.

A logical order would be one where the information structure is based on how people think about the task and related items are grouped together. For example, "Save" and "Save As" are nowhere near each other in frequency of use, but they are grouped together in most File menus (and rightly so!) because they are very closely related.

Elizabeth

--
Elizabeth Buie
Luminanze Consulting, LLC
tel +1.301.943.4168 (US)
tel +39.347.394.7022 (Italia)
fax +1.301.949.9694 (US only)
www.luminanze.com

4 Feb 2009 - 11:50am
Paul Trumble
2004

To add to what Elizabeth said. Alphabetical order only makes sense where
there is a well understood common vocabulary in your list (as with states.)
If the items lack a well-understood and expected set of labels, alphabetical
order is just as random as ordering them by length.

Paul Trumble

On Wed, Feb 4, 2009 at 12:27 PM, Elizabeth Buie <ebuie at luminanze.com> wrote:

> Dmitry asks:
>
> >Does anyone know of any studies, tests, or standards of practice that
> >discuss when to organize a list of items in alphabetical order vs.
> >another designed order (such as one based on expected frequency of
> >use)?
>
> Alphabetical ordering is, under most circumstances, appropriate when there
> is no logical order based on similarity or relatedness. It is a logical
> order for something like countries or states in e-commerce, although even
> there I can imagine situations in which you'd want to group states or
> countries by region first and then order them alphabetically within the
> group.
>
> Frequency of use is not a logical order, either.
>
> A logical order would be one where the information structure is based on
> how people think about the task and related items are grouped together. For
> example, "Save" and "Save As" are nowhere near each other in frequency of
> use, but they are grouped together in most File menus (and rightly so!)
> because they are very closely related.
>
> Elizabeth
>
> --
> Elizabeth Buie
> Luminanze Consulting, LLC
> tel +1.301.943.4168 (US)
> tel +39.347.394.7022 (Italia)
> fax +1.301.949.9694 (US only)
> www.luminanze.com
> ________________________________________________________________
> Welcome to the Interaction Design Association (IxDA)!
> To post to this list ....... discuss at ixda.org
> Unsubscribe ................ http://www.ixda.org/unsubscribe
> List Guidelines ............ http://www.ixda.org/guidelines
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>

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4 Feb 2009 - 11:51am
Chauncey Wilson
2007

There is a good discussion of ordering in the old, but classic book by
Deborah Mayhew, *Principles* and *Guidelines* in *Software* User Interface
Design.

The book has a nice if-then chart which highlights a rough way to choose how
to order items. The chart and guidelines are based on research into order
items. Alphabetical ordering is generally used when the list if very long
and/or there is not better way to order the items. There is some research on
ordering of items in the ACM digital library if you have access to that.
Menus are often hybrid designs as Elizabeth notes where you have a general
structure that might be frequency of use, but within that structure use
other grouping schemes as well (like semantic similarity). General grouping
schemes include:

Alphabetical
Task order
Frequency
Numerical (font size)
De facto standard
Legal order
Complexity (simple to hard)
Semantic similarity
First-in, first out

This is a good topic since much of what we do is to organize things in an
order which helps understanding or makes us more efficient or supports easy
recollection.

Thanks,
Chauncey

On Wed, Feb 4, 2009 at 12:20 PM, Dmitry Nekrasovski
<mail.dmitry at gmail.com>wrote:

> Does anyone know of any studies, tests, or standards of practice that
> discuss when to organize a list of items in alphabetical order vs.
> another designed order (such as one based on expected frequency of
> use)?
>
> I'm most interested in this topic for web site navigation, but
> applicable references for other contexts (e.g. menu design in desktop
> applications) would also be appreciated.
>
> Thanks,
>
> Dmitry
> ________________________________________________________________
> Welcome to the Interaction Design Association (IxDA)!
> To post to this list ....... discuss at ixda.org
> Unsubscribe ................ http://www.ixda.org/unsubscribe
> List Guidelines ............ http://www.ixda.org/guidelines
> List Help .................. http://www.ixda.org/help
>

4 Feb 2009 - 12:13pm
Mary Deaton
2008

I disagree that alphabetical is random; it is quite well-ordered by a
long-set of standing rules. It is also a means of ordering that people
learn, in Western culture, from the day they begin to learn to read. As
Chauncey says, it is the way to order when no other order makes sense.

Mary Deaton

On Wed, Feb 4, 2009 at 9:51 AM, Chauncey Wilson
<chauncey.wilson at gmail.com>wrote:

> There is a good discussion of ordering in the old, but classic book by
> Deborah Mayhew, *Principles* and *Guidelines* in *Software* User Interface
> Design.
>
> The book has a nice if-then chart which highlights a rough way to choose
> how
> to order items. The chart and guidelines are based on research into order
> items. Alphabetical ordering is generally used when the list if very long
> and/or there is not better way to order the items. There is some research
> on
> ordering of items in the ACM digital library if you have access to that.
> Menus are often hybrid designs as Elizabeth notes where you have a general
> structure that might be frequency of use, but within that structure use
> other grouping schemes as well (like semantic similarity). General grouping
> schemes include:
>
> Alphabetical
> Task order
> Frequency
> Numerical (font size)
> De facto standard
> Legal order
> Complexity (simple to hard)
> Semantic similarity
> First-in, first out
>
> This is a good topic since much of what we do is to organize things in an
> order which helps understanding or makes us more efficient or supports easy
> recollection.
>
> Thanks,
> Chauncey
>
>
>
>
>
> On Wed, Feb 4, 2009 at 12:20 PM, Dmitry Nekrasovski
> <mail.dmitry at gmail.com>wrote:
>
> > Does anyone know of any studies, tests, or standards of practice that
> > discuss when to organize a list of items in alphabetical order vs.
> > another designed order (such as one based on expected frequency of
> > use)?
> >
> > I'm most interested in this topic for web site navigation, but
> > applicable references for other contexts (e.g. menu design in desktop
> > applications) would also be appreciated.
> >
> > Thanks,
> >
> > Dmitry
> > ________________________________________________________________
> > Welcome to the Interaction Design Association (IxDA)!
> > To post to this list ....... discuss at ixda.org
> > Unsubscribe ................ http://www.ixda.org/unsubscribe
> > List Guidelines ............ http://www.ixda.org/guidelines
> > List Help .................. http://www.ixda.org/help
> >
> ________________________________________________________________
> Welcome to the Interaction Design Association (IxDA)!
> To post to this list ....... discuss at ixda.org
> Unsubscribe ................ http://www.ixda.org/unsubscribe
> List Guidelines ............ http://www.ixda.org/guidelines
> List Help .................. http://www.ixda.org/help
>

--
Mary Deaton
Yes we can. Yes we did. Yes we will

4 Feb 2009 - 12:18pm
Elizabeth Buie
2004

Alphabetical order is no better than random order if the user does not know what to look for. Alpha order aids in scanning through a list of things with known names, to find the one sought.

>I disagree that alphabetical is random; it is quite well-ordered by a
>long-set of standing rules. It is also a means of ordering that people
>learn, in Western culture, from the day they begin to learn to read. As
>Chauncey says, it is the way to order when no other order makes sense.
>
>Mary Deaton

--
Elizabeth Buie
Luminanze Consulting, LLC
tel +1.301.943.4168 (US)
tel +39.347.394.7022 (Italia)
fax +1.301.949.9694 (US only)
www.luminanze.com

4 Feb 2009 - 2:18pm
Simon Clatworthy
2006

I have seen combinations a few times. SAS airlines have a drop down
list of destinations that is alphabetical (and very long) but have
the major nordic destinations pulled out first as well.
That makes it a hell of a lot easier to use:
- is my destination one of these 5
- if not, find it on the long list

Isn't this really a use of the old photocopier rule: show a subset
of options and hide the full functionality under a cover until
needed?

try it yourself at www.sas.no

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Posted from the new ixda.org
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4 Feb 2009 - 3:21pm
Chauncey Wilson
2007

Many menus have some kind of progressive disclosure, but they key to showing
a subset of items is knowing which items are of extremely high frequency -
which is possible for a copier but not always for complex software that
people might use in different ways or where there are different groups that
use different clusters of problems. Of course, you could have role-based
progressive disclosure where the items you see are determined at login.

In the early days of GUIs, Apple tried to have"Novice" and "Expert" menus on
some of the core products, but that was scrapped because it was slightly
condescending and it was hard to define what "novices" and "experts" were.

The description of the SAS system is probably chunked into "most frequent"
at the top and then the rest in alphabetical order (usually repeating the
ones at the top). This works well when you have good logging software or
know that the first 5 items cover say 80-90% of the choices that users wil
make.

Chauncey

On Wed, Feb 4, 2009 at 3:18 PM, Simon Clatworthy <clatwort at online.no> wrote:

> I have seen combinations a few times. SAS airlines have a drop down
> list of destinations that is alphabetical (and very long) but have
> the major nordic destinations pulled out first as well.
> That makes it a hell of a lot easier to use:
> - is my destination one of these 5
> - if not, find it on the long list
>
> Isn't this really a use of the old photocopier rule: show a subset
> of options and hide the full functionality under a cover until
> needed?
>
> try it yourself at www.sas.no
>
>
> . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
> Posted from the new ixda.org
> http://www.ixda.org/discuss?post=38149
>
>
> ________________________________________________________________
> Welcome to the Interaction Design Association (IxDA)!
> To post to this list ....... discuss at ixda.org
> Unsubscribe ................ http://www.ixda.org/unsubscribe
> List Guidelines ............ http://www.ixda.org/guidelines
> List Help .................. http://www.ixda.org/help
>

4 Feb 2009 - 5:06pm
Jared M. Spool
2003

On Feb 4, 2009, at 10:13 AM, Mary Deaton wrote:

> I disagree that alphabetical is random; it is quite well-ordered by a
> long-set of standing rules.

Really?

Here's a suggestion: take your iTunes music list and play each song in
alphabetical order. See if it sounds different from shuffle.

I bet not.

Jared

4 Feb 2009 - 5:24pm
Angel Marquez
2008

I like the top five ways to sort information present in the list readily
available, leaving the choice to the users discretion & and not limiting
them, via the interface similar to the way you can organize files in the
Finder on a Mac or in Explorer on a PC. The high level sort at the very top
of the list ordered by a usage frequency would be ideal.
Five Hat Racks <http://www.infovis-wiki.net/index.php/Five_Hat_Racks>

Alphabetical
Time
Location
Continuum
Category

Run it past the schema or DBI architect. These taxonomies mirror the
database design. The architect might shed some light on the situation and
you would build a useful relationship.

4 Feb 2009 - 7:33pm
Mary Deaton
2008

No, it doesn't sound different from shuffle, but when I open my music
library list on line looking for things to put on my MP3 player, I want the
list of artists or songs or albums in alphabetical order. In that context
and at that time, alphabetical is a well-ordered, predictable arrangement
that makes it easy for me to find Ryan Adams or Ziggy Marley. It is all
about context and user goals, isn't it?

On Wed, Feb 4, 2009 at 3:06 PM, Jared Spool <jspool at uie.com> wrote:

>
> On Feb 4, 2009, at 10:13 AM, Mary Deaton wrote:
>
> I disagree that alphabetical is random; it is quite well-ordered by a
>> long-set of standing rules.
>>
>
> Really?
>
> Here's a suggestion: take your iTunes music list and play each song in
> alphabetical order. See if it sounds different from shuffle.
>
> I bet not.
>
> Jared
>
>
>
>

--
Mary Deaton
Yes we can. Yes we did. Yes we will

4 Feb 2009 - 7:40pm
Elizabeth Buie
2004

Mary Deaton writes:

>... when I open my music
>library list on line looking for things to put on my MP3 player, I want the
>list of artists or songs or albums in alphabetical order. In that context
>and at that time, alphabetical is a well-ordered, predictable arrangement
>that makes it easy for me to find Ryan Adams or Ziggy Marley. It is all
>about context and user goals, isn't it?

Mary, what you have described supports perfectly my position that alphabetical ordering is the best when there is no logical ordering based on content. Alphabetical is not itself a logical order. That doesn't mean it's illogical to use it, of course, just that there is no logic on which it is based: It is arbitrary.

Elizabeth

--
Elizabeth Buie
Luminanze Consulting, LLC
tel +1.301.943.4168 (US)
tel +39.347.394.7022 (Italia)
fax +1.301.949.9694 (US only)
www.luminanze.com

4 Feb 2009 - 7:58pm
Angel Marquez
2008

I just took a class and we had to do a card sort and I did alphabetical off
the bat. It is universal order. The teacher didn't approve of why quick
to alphabetize approach...
Yes, Adam, Ryan and The Cardinal rocks and Marley, Ziggy lays it down just
like his pops.

When I'm in iTunes Album order (in alpha) is better than Artist Name (in
alpha); but, it is always alphabetic that suits my needs.

It took me awhile to figure out how to put a 00-1000 track orders (Deep Dish
like smooth transition between tracks etc..) back into place after
resorting...

On Wed, Feb 4, 2009 at 5:40 PM, Elizabeth Buie <ebuie at luminanze.com> wrote:

> Mary Deaton writes:
>
> >... when I open my music
> >library list on line looking for things to put on my MP3 player, I want
> the
> >list of artists or songs or albums in alphabetical order. In that context
> >and at that time, alphabetical is a well-ordered, predictable arrangement
> >that makes it easy for me to find Ryan Adams or Ziggy Marley. It is all
> >about context and user goals, isn't it?
>
> Mary, what you have described supports perfectly my position that
> alphabetical ordering is the best when there is no logical ordering based on
> content. Alphabetical is not itself a logical order. That doesn't mean
> it's illogical to use it, of course, just that there is no logic on which it
> is based: It is arbitrary.
>
> Elizabeth
>
> --
> Elizabeth Buie
> Luminanze Consulting, LLC
> tel +1.301.943.4168 (US)
> tel +39.347.394.7022 (Italia)
> fax +1.301.949.9694 (US only)
> www.luminanze.com
> ________________________________________________________________
> Welcome to the Interaction Design Association (IxDA)!
> To post to this list ....... discuss at ixda.org
> Unsubscribe ................ http://www.ixda.org/unsubscribe
> List Guidelines ............ http://www.ixda.org/guidelines
> List Help .................. http://www.ixda.org/help
>

4 Feb 2009 - 8:26pm
Jared M. Spool
2003

It is all about context. And in many, many contexts, alphabetical is
random.

So, making it a blind "default" doesn't really work.

Jared

On Feb 4, 2009, at 5:33 PM, Mary Deaton wrote:

> No, it doesn't sound different from shuffle, but when I open my
> music library list on line looking for things to put on my MP3
> player, I want the list of artists or songs or albums in
> alphabetical order. In that context and at that time, alphabetical
> is a well-ordered, predictable arrangement that makes it easy for me
> to find Ryan Adams or Ziggy Marley. It is all about context and user
> goals, isn't it?
>
> On Wed, Feb 4, 2009 at 3:06 PM, Jared Spool <jspool at uie.com> wrote:
>
> On Feb 4, 2009, at 10:13 AM, Mary Deaton wrote:
>
> I disagree that alphabetical is random; it is quite well-ordered by a
> long-set of standing rules.
>
> Really?
>
> Here's a suggestion: take your iTunes music list and play each song
> in alphabetical order. See if it sounds different from shuffle.
>
> I bet not.
>
> Jared
>
>
>
>
>
>
> --
> Mary Deaton
> Yes we can. Yes we did. Yes we will

4 Feb 2009 - 8:34pm
Elizabeth Buie
2004

Jared wrote:

>It is all about context. And in many, many contexts, alphabetical is
>random.

Some people may be objecting to the characterization of alphabetical as random because they see "random" as "unpredictable" -- which alphabetical certainly is not... as long as you know the name of what you are looking for. That is why I said it was arbitrary, which I think avoids the "random = unpredictable" problem.

Elizabeth
--
Elizabeth Buie
Luminanze Consulting, LLC
tel +1.301.943.4168 (US)
tel +39.347.394.7022 (Italia)
fax +1.301.949.9694 (US only)
www.luminanze.com

4 Feb 2009 - 8:38pm
Angel Marquez
2008

Their is no such thing as random without context.

On Wed, Feb 4, 2009 at 6:34 PM, Elizabeth Buie <ebuie at luminanze.com> wrote:

> Jared wrote:
>
> >It is all about context. And in many, many contexts, alphabetical is
> >random.
>
> Some people may be objecting to the characterization of alphabetical as
> random because they see "random" as "unpredictable" -- which alphabetical
> certainly is not... as long as you know the name of what you are looking
> for. That is why I said it was arbitrary, which I think avoids the "random
> = unpredictable" problem.
>
> Elizabeth
> --
> Elizabeth Buie
> Luminanze Consulting, LLC
> tel +1.301.943.4168 (US)
> tel +39.347.394.7022 (Italia)
> fax +1.301.949.9694 (US only)
> www.luminanze.com
> ________________________________________________________________
> Welcome to the Interaction Design Association (IxDA)!
> To post to this list ....... discuss at ixda.org
> Unsubscribe ................ http://www.ixda.org/unsubscribe
> List Guidelines ............ http://www.ixda.org/guidelines
> List Help .................. http://www.ixda.org/help
>

4 Feb 2009 - 8:42pm
Jared M. Spool
2003

On Feb 4, 2009, at 6:34 PM, Elizabeth Buie wrote:

> Jared wrote:
>
>> It is all about context. And in many, many contexts, alphabetical is
>> random.
>
> Some people may be objecting to the characterization of alphabetical
> as random because they see "random" as "unpredictable" -- which
> alphabetical certainly is not... as long as you know the name of
> what you are looking for. That is why I said it was arbitrary,
> which I think avoids the "random = unpredictable" problem.

You lost me on the distinction between arbitrary and unpredictable.

Otherwise, I'm there.

Jared

Jared M. Spool
User Interface Engineering
510 Turnpike St., Suite 102, North Andover, MA 01845
e: jspool at uie.com p: +1 978 327 5561
http://uie.com Blog: http://uie.com/brainsparks Twitter: jmspool
UIE Web App Summit, 4/19-4/22: http://webappsummit.com

4 Feb 2009 - 8:48pm
Elizabeth Buie
2004

Jared wrote:

>You lost me on the distinction between arbitrary and unpredictable.

Alphabetical is arbitrary in that there is no logic to it; the order of the letters is an arbitary order that assigns no value or meaning or logic. The fact that we all use the same arbitrary order is what makes it predictable.

Elizabeth

--
Elizabeth Buie
Luminanze Consulting, LLC
tel +1.301.943.4168 (US)
tel +39.347.394.7022 (Italia)
fax +1.301.949.9694 (US only)
www.luminanze.com

4 Feb 2009 - 9:31pm
James Page
2008

The answer is it depends on what you are ordering, it also may depend on
where your participant is from, the length of the list.

On the question of ordering by country in our testing that we have done in a
remote study of over 100 participants, the findings where always list the
countries alphabetically. If you want to be clever place the top 5 countries
at the top of the list as well, but make sure that the country is listed
alphabetically as well. Less than 5% of your users will look at the top of
list.
People (at least in Germany/the Netherlands/Spain/UK/Austria/Italy) nearly
always look down the list to find their country in its correct alphabetical
order. When the country is promoted to the top of the list it adds
on average 15 seconds to peoples search time, and can lead to task
failure. Listing countries by region also does not work, but leads to a
lower failure rate than when the country is listed at the top of list out
of alphabetical order. One of the issues we had was on listing countries by
region was quite a high percentage of participants where unsure of which
region they where in.

We did not test with American participants, who may be used to the United
States been at the top.

Another test we carried out was to help people locate a bus stop using an
Ajax drop down. For this list quite a complex scoring system was used for
ordering the list. There where different weights for what characters the
user had entered, which region we thought the user was in, and popularity of
the bus stop. This worked better than a Alphabetical listing. The n on this
was about 40.

If you want to be more specific on what the list is I will see if we have
any findings to share.

James
http://blog.feralabs.com

2009/2/5 Elizabeth Buie <ebuie at luminanze.com>

> Jared wrote:
>
> >You lost me on the distinction between arbitrary and unpredictable.
>
> Alphabetical is arbitrary in that there is no logic to it; the order of the
> letters is an arbitary order that assigns no value or meaning or logic. The
> fact that we all use the same arbitrary order is what makes it predictable.
>
> Elizabeth
>
> --
> Elizabeth Buie
> Luminanze Consulting, LLC
> tel +1.301.943.4168 (US)
> tel +39.347.394.7022 (Italia)
> fax +1.301.949.9694 (US only)
> www.luminanze.com
> ________________________________________________________________
> Welcome to the Interaction Design Association (IxDA)!
> To post to this list ....... discuss at ixda.org
> Unsubscribe ................ http://www.ixda.org/unsubscribe
> List Guidelines ............ http://www.ixda.org/guidelines
> List Help .................. http://www.ixda.org/help
>

4 Feb 2009 - 12:18pm
Rodrigo Gonzatto
2009

The book "Everything is Miscellaneous" have a chapter with this
subject. [ http://www.everythingismiscellaneous.com ]

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Posted from the new ixda.org
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5 Feb 2009 - 11:14am
Mary Deaton
2008

You are correct that alphabetical order does not reflect any relationship
between the items in a list other than where the words, usually the first,
falls in the alphabet, but I would not say that is not logical.

Mary
On Wed, Feb 4, 2009 at 5:40 PM, Elizabeth Buie <ebuie at luminanze.com> wrote:

> Mary Deaton writes:
>
> >... when I open my music
> >library list on line looking for things to put on my MP3 player, I want
> the
> >list of artists or songs or albums in alphabetical order. In that context
> >and at that time, alphabetical is a well-ordered, predictable arrangement
> >that makes it easy for me to find Ryan Adams or Ziggy Marley. It is all
> >about context and user goals, isn't it?
>
> Mary, what you have described supports perfectly my position that
> alphabetical ordering is the best when there is no logical ordering based on
> content. Alphabetical is not itself a logical order. That doesn't mean
> it's illogical to use it, of course, just that there is no logic on which it
> is based: It is arbitrary.
>
> Elizabeth
>
> --
> Elizabeth Buie
> Luminanze Consulting, LLC
> tel +1.301.943.4168 (US)
> tel +39.347.394.7022 (Italia)
> fax +1.301.949.9694 (US only)
> www.luminanze.com
> ________________________________________________________________
> Welcome to the Interaction Design Association (IxDA)!
> To post to this list ....... discuss at ixda.org
> Unsubscribe ................ http://www.ixda.org/unsubscribe
> List Guidelines ............ http://www.ixda.org/guidelines
> List Help .................. http://www.ixda.org/help
>

--
Mary Deaton
Yes we can. Yes we did. Yes we will

4 Feb 2009 - 12:19pm
robotperson
2009

As I understand it, the context of the question is site nav.
Alphabetically arranged site nav is one of the things I look for in
an expert review as a sign that someone hasn't put enough thought
into users' priorities.

I like to see harmony between users' priorities, the order of links
in the nav, and the positioning of elements in the visual hierarchy
of the page: Your #1 user priority should be the first link in the
nav and be supported by the prime element page.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Posted from the new ixda.org
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5 Feb 2009 - 12:36pm
Elizabeth Buie
2004

At 3:31 AM +0000 2/5/09, James Page wrote:

>If you want to be clever
>place the top 5 countries at the top of the list as well, but make
>sure that the country is listed alphabetically as well.

[snip]

>When the country is promoted to the
>top of the list it adds on average 15 seconds to peoples search
>time, and can lead to task failure.

James, I am amazed that this had to be tested. I consider it a no-brainer.
Put countries in alpha order AND put the most commonly used ones at the top.
Did someone seriously suggest that you put some countries at the top *instead*?

Elizabeth, shaking her head
--
Elizabeth Buie
Luminanze Consulting, LLC
tel +1.301.943.4168
http://www.luminanze.com

5 Feb 2009 - 9:03pm
cfmdesigns
2004

At the same time, lack of alpha order is a greatsign that you need to
take a look at what the order actually is. As much as half the time
(18 years of software QA), no intentional has been applied at all.

You're right that the #1 priority should be first, but only if such
can be determined. And the real problem isn't that #1 isn't first but
that the order after that isn't clear. If #4-6 aren't clearly
orderable (by the user!), then having #1 followed by a jumble likely
doesn't give value. They find what they want quickly 25% of the time
but have to struggle for the rest --> bad experience.

The advantage of alpha order us that is that while nothing is easier
to find, nothing is harder, either.

-- Jim
Via my iPhone

On Feb 4, 2009, at 10:19 AM, Rob Pearson <robotperson at gmail.com> wrote:

> As I understand it, the context of the question is site nav.
> Alphabetically arranged site nav is one of the things I look for in
> an expert review as a sign that someone hasn't put enough thought
> into users' priorities.
>
> I like to see harmony between users' priorities, the order of links
> in the nav, and the positioning of elements in the visual hierarchy
> of the page: Your #1 user priority should be the first link in the
> nav and be supported by the prime element page.
>
>
>
> . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
> Posted from the new ixda.org
> http://www.ixda.org/discuss?post=38149
>
>
> ________________________________________________________________
> Welcome to the Interaction Design Association (IxDA)!
> To post to this list ....... discuss at ixda.org
> Unsubscribe ................ http://www.ixda.org/unsubscribe
> List Guidelines ............ http://www.ixda.org/guidelines
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7 Feb 2009 - 4:04pm
Mike Myles
2009

For long lists without an obvious logical arrangement alphabetical
order allows one to take advantage of Hick's law
(http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hick's_law), but if the list is
relatively short and there is a logical order to the items then
alphabetizing is probably not the way to go.

In most cases alphabetizing doesn't work well in menus. As other's
have mentioned, it's about equivalent to putting items in a random
order. Menus are groupings. As a result they will nearly always
contain items that have some logical relationship: undo, redo -
print, preview - cut, copy, paste - new, open, close - save, save as,
save all...

The groups may or may not workout in alphabetical order. And what if
the UI is translated into another language? The alphabetized menus
will change - probably a bad idea.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Posted from the new ixda.org
http://www.ixda.org/discuss?post=38149

9 Feb 2009 - 2:16pm
Bill Lucas
2009

Dmitry originally posted this question on my behalf. I'm grateful for
everyone's contributions - thanks!

As Rob Pearson noted earlier, the context is one of general site
navigation. It's not for finding a known, specific item within a
lengthy, recognizable list (like a list of countries). It seems clear
that few here would organize their web site navigation on a strictly
alphabetical basis, so that's good, and not a surprise.

But other than this informal consensus (and tons of real-world
examples), can anyone point to publicly available research that
confirms that a simple alphabetical ordering is not optimal for
high-level navigation items?

(A client arguing for alphabetical claims that no one organization
will suit all visitors, so suggests alphabetical for neutrality's
sake.)

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Posted from the new ixda.org
http://www.ixda.org/discuss?post=38149

17 Feb 2009 - 1:14am
cfmdesigns
2004

On Feb 4, 2009, at 10:18 AM, Elizabeth Buie wrote:

> Alphabetical order is no better than random order if the user does
> not know what to look for. Alpha order aids in scanning through a
> list of things with known names, to find the one sought.
>
>> I disagree that alphabetical is random; it is quite well-ordered by a
>> long-set of standing rules. It is also a means of ordering that
>> people
>> learn, in Western culture, from the day they begin to learn to
>> read. As
>> Chauncey says, it is the way to order when no other order makes
>> sense.

Hmm, I would have to disagree with this. Alphabetical *is* better
than random order, because human beings don't believe in random
order. We always believe that there is a design of some sort (and
thus we invented god, thank you Voltaire). And thus if your list of
items were "random", users would try to make sense of the randomness,
to impart a design behind it, to figure out what the heck is going
on. To pattern match, if nothing else.

Alphabetic order indicates design intent of some sort, and while some
users might wish for better design (like their country at the top of
the list), at least they won't spend cycles trying to make sense out
of what is supposed to have none. And thus they can move forward
without worrying that they didn't "get" it.

-- Jim

17 Feb 2009 - 4:26am
James Page
2008

Elizabeth,

I agree the idea to it a no-brainier. Put countries in alpha order AND put
the most commonly used ones at the top.

> Did someone seriously suggest that you put some countries at the top
*instead*?
Yes and the web has many examples. This list is also littered with people
suggesting that you should not place countries in alpha order, but should
order them by region.

The tests that we ran for this client caught many more things. This is the
advantage of using remote usability testing, it is cheap, fast, high n, and
allows you to test internationally.

James
http://blog.feralabs.com

2009/2/5 Elizabeth Buie <ebuie at luminanze.com>

> At 3:31 AM +0000 2/5/09, James Page wrote:
>
> >If you want to be clever
> >place the top 5 countries at the top of the list as well, but make
> >sure that the country is listed alphabetically as well.
>
> [snip]
>
> >When the country is promoted to the
> >top of the list it adds on average 15 seconds to peoples search
> >time, and can lead to task failure.
>
> James, I am amazed that this had to be tested. I consider it a no-brainer.
> Put countries in alpha order AND put the most commonly used ones at the
> top.
> Did someone seriously suggest that you put some countries at the top
> *instead*?
>
> Elizabeth, shaking her head
> --
> Elizabeth Buie
> Luminanze Consulting, LLC
> tel +1.301.943.4168
> http://www.luminanze.com
> ________________________________________________________________
> Welcome to the Interaction Design Association (IxDA)!
> To post to this list ....... discuss at ixda.org
> Unsubscribe ................ http://www.ixda.org/unsubscribe
> List Guidelines ............ http://www.ixda.org/guidelines
> List Help .................. http://www.ixda.org/help
>

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