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Information Architecture for the World Wide Web, Second Edition by Peter Morville, Louis Rosenfeld

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Designing Labels

Designing effective labels is perhaps the most difficult aspect of information architecture. Language is simply too ambiguous for you to ever feel confident that you’ve perfected a label. There are always synonyms and homonyms to worry about, and different contexts influence our understanding of what a particular term means. But even labeling conventions are questionable: you absolutely cannot assume that the label “main page” will be correctly interpreted by 100% of your site’s users. Your labels will never be perfect, and you can only hope that your efforts make a difference, as measuring label effectiveness is extremely difficult if not impossible.

If it sounds to you like labeling is an art rather than a science, then you’re absolutely correct. And as in all such cases, you can forget about finding incontrovertible rules, and hope for guidelines instead. Following are some guidelines and related issues that will help you as you delve into the mysterious art of label design.

General Guidelines

Remember that content, users, and context affect all aspects of an information architecture, and this is particularly true with labels. Any of the variables attached to users, content, and context can drag a label into the land of ambiguity.

Let’s go back to the term “pitch.” From baseball (what’s thrown) to football (the field where it’s played in the United Kingdom), from sales (what’s sometimes made on the golf course) to sailing (the angle of the boat in the water), ...

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