An ABC of R2: Z is for zones

…which are a top navigation level of However the navigational structure was designed to be quite fluid, and the concept of a zone is really more of an internal reference point than a phrase that’s intended to be used by our site’s users.

The ebb and flow of the online media marketplace meant that while we were working on R2 Times Online in the UK launched a redesign of their own. At the time I was interested to read an interview with their Information Architect who said that they had constructed a three-level navigation hierarchy. For we had considered and rejected implementing such an explicit scheme for three primary reasons.

First we recognise that the breadth of our content wasn’t equal across all subjects — we have many more journalists working on news stories than travel stories, for example, so a second-level of navigation under news might have a couple of dozen subjects, which is impossible to display conveniently on a navbar. Second not all subjects break down neatly into three levels — some topics have more depth and complexity than others. Third, Guardian values mean that certain subjects need to be given more prominence than a formal encyclopaedic breakdown allows — for example, in any formal scheme environmental issues would be part of the news or the science section, but the reality is that our planet’s environmental state is far too important to relegate to anything but the highest level.

So R2 was designed to allow fluidity and flexibility in our navigation, and we created words to describe its different aspects. A zone is one of the top-level categories that appear along the top navigation bar: News, Sport, Comment, Culture, etc. At the bottom level of categorisation are very specific subjects such as interest rates, war crimes, Kate Moss and thousands of others. If you’re reading about one of these subjects it doesn’t matter how many levels deep you might be as long as there’s some clear signposting to find your way to your next point of interest. The navigation should give you some kind of orientation, and importantly act as a guide to jumping off to similar subjects or to begin a new journey elsewhere entirely. But exposing any internal classification system is less important. R2 has given us a system that separates the visual navigation from the way content is organised internally.