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

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Metaphor Exploration

Metaphor can be a powerful tool for communicating complex ideas and generating enthusiasm. By suggesting creative relationships or by mapping the familiar onto the new, metaphor can be used to explain, excite, and persuade. In 1992, vice-presidential candidate Al Gore popularized the term information superhighway. This term mapped the familiar and respected metaphor of the physical highway infrastructure of the United States onto the new and unfamiliar concept of a national information infrastructure. Gore used this term to excite the voters about his vision for the future. While the term did oversimplify and has since been horribly overused, it succeeded in helping people to begin learning about and discussing the importance and direction of the global Internet.

Three types of metaphor can be applied in the design of web sites. These are organizational, functional, and visual metaphors:

  • Organizational metaphors leverage familiarity with one system’s organization to convey quick understanding of a new system’s organization. For example, when you visit an automobile dealership, you must choose to enter one of the following departments: new car sales, used car sales, repair and service, or parts and supplies. People have a mental model of how dealerships are organized. If you’re creating a web site for an automobile dealership, it may make sense to employ an organizational metaphor that draws from this model.

  • Functional metaphors make a connection between the ...

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