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Designing Taxonomies for Mobile

Whether your mobile development strategy includes native apps, hybrid applications or mobile optimized websites, the bottom line in mobile design is that all contributors must be cognizant of some key differences between smartphones, tablets and the traditional PC.

Here are a collection of thoughts on the critical element of taxonomy design for mobile navigation.

Brevity is the soul of a good mobile taxonomy

As taxonomists, we are already sensitive to how our controlled vocabulary displays on screen, so we give consideration to character limits and text wrapping, and whenever possible try to use a single word to represent a concept rather than multiple words. But designing for mobile means more than being aware of a reduced screen size: it’s a new platform, with touch-driven interaction and different contexts of use.

In the retail sector, for example, offering highly visible product category navigation is even more important on mobile than on the desktop.   With limited screen real estate (and often, reduced search functionality), the top level taxonomy must serve the dual purpose of “anchor point” for navigation experience (to find desired products) as well as quickly communicating the scope of available mobile interaction context.

Here are 5 recommendations for mobile taxonomy design.

1. Limit the number of levels

There are few absolutes when designing taxonomies, but if your mobile taxonomy is more than 3 levels deep it may be burying desired products and content too many taps away. To satisfy both limited screen size constraints and fewer drill down taps, that means finding ways to collapse the distance between the top level and leaf nodes. Consider options such as removing super-categories (aka mega-menus), left-to-right thumb scroll of L2 to L3 on the same screen, replacing L2 to L3 display with attribute-driven refinement display, or treating mobile more like a microsite.

2. Consider most likely intent

An important consideration--for smartphones in particular--is adopting a narrowed focus based on the most likely usage context or conversion scenarios.  You don’t need to, nor often should you, show the same full list of categories and topics as displayed on laptops or even tablets.  This is a tactic that the office supplies retailer Staples recently focused on, leading in part to a huge lift in mobile conversion rate.  “What [our] shoppers are seeking on mobile is electronics—so 70% of Staples’ catalog on the smartphone site and app are those featured products,” executive vice president of global eCommerce Faisal Masud said in a talk at a mobile commerce conference. 

3. Make search smarter

Don’t ignore mobile search, which if designed properly, will leverage the taxonomy for improved findability. Beefing up your leaf nodes with synonyms while enhancing search with type-ahead (to the lowest taxonomy level) is a very good way to reduce the number of taps-to-content. And users will think your search got A LOT smarter, but without a complete overhaul of your mobile search platform.

4. Offer shortcuts

Consider helpful shortcuts like lists of most popular categories within the taxonomy, trending products (or trending on Pinterest or other social media), and top searches.

5. Test, Test, TEST. 

Validate the mobile taxonomy with actual users. Whether it’s testing pre-launch via card sorts and tree tests, or post-launch via relevance and split A/B tests, the proof of whether the mobile taxonomy works for your audience can be confirmed, and opportunities for optimization identified. 

For a look into how we use customer data models, product data models, content models, and knowledge architecture to create a framework for unified commerce download our whitepaper: Attribute-Driven Framework for Unified Commerce

Earley Information Science Team
Earley Information Science Team
We're passionate about enterprise data and love discussing industry knowledge, best practices, and insights. We look forward to hearing from you! Comment below to join the conversation.

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