Reasons to be Cheerful: Tonic for tumultuous times.

Reasons to be Cheerful: Tonic for tumultuous times.
Photo by Nick Page / Unsplash

I was recently given an assignment to select a favorite website and write a review and critique of the site's Information Architecture (IA), a subject I know very little about.

In reading Chapter Two of Information Architecture for the World Wide Web by authors Louis Rosenfeld, Peter Morville, and Jorge Arango, I was relieved to see their definition of IA was fluid and abstract, as IA "exists below the surface, in the deep semantic structures of products and services," and varies from one information environment to another and changes over time. In general terms, the goal of IA is to create an environment where users can effortlessly find, understand, and interact with a website, but as the authors point out, it's not something most users can easily point to. I was happy to see it's not just me.

IA provides the structure and organization that contributes to a positive user experience. As technology advances and the volume of digital information continues to grow, the role of information architects becomes increasingly vital in creating digital spaces that are not only functional but also conducive to meaningful and intuitive interactions.

Until taking this Technical Writing in the Digital Age class, I never really thought about what goes on behind the scenes to make a website user-friendly. I just know when a website works and when it doesn't. I know when I get annoyed having to dig for information or when the search tools seem to pull up outdated or irrelevant information.

Admittedly, if I'm not at work, I don't spend a lot of time on websites. When I am at work, I'm mostly on the university website where I'm employed. Since it's probably not a best practice to openly critique one's employer, I decided to revisit a website I discovered during the COVID-19 pandemic that makes me happy and gives me hope when the regular news makes me feel sad and angry.

Reasons to be Cheerful was started by artist and musician, David Byrne, in 2020 to share "stories of hope, rooted in evidence... to inspire us all to be curious about how the world can be better, and to ask ourselves how we can be part of that change."

The website doesn't have a super complex navigation system, but that is one of the reasons why I like it. I can usually find stories to read about through the headlines on the landing page:

Or by browsing subjects from the Categories menu:

The categories are arranged alphabetically, so it's pretty easy to find whatever subject matter might be of interest.

There is also a Story Collections page:

Story Collections are grouped together by more universal terms but each category relates to what these stories have in common.

Overall, I love this website and bouncing around from page to page and discovering new things and how other people all over the world are spearheading initiatives that successfully address problems with solutions that work and could be implemented anywhere.

Where the website falls short is in the "Search" bar. As a test, I decided I would look for stories about "Artificial Intelligence." The first series of articles that popped up was baffling until I figured out I had typed in the abbreviation, "AI," and the search engine had pulled up any story that had words with the letters "AI" in them. Like the words "campaign" or "said" or any other word that has that letter combination. The next time I searched, I spelled out the whole words and generated slightly better results. I still wound up with the odd story that wasn't wholly relevant, but it wasn't as random as the results just searching for "AI."

In digging a bit deeper, it doesn't appear that the website has a tagging system, or if there is one it is behind the scenes and not super accurate. #nohashtag

Should I ever create a website of my own I will definitely look for ways to improve searchability and tagging so that users can easily find information. (Or in a perfect world, I will pay someone else to do it for me). On my existing website, I will definitely look into WordPress tools that will help me improve how my audience can interact with my site and easily search for topics of interest in my blog space. My site is still a work in progress, but I appreciate how much I'm learning in this class and how it will help me think about my personal/professional website and ways I can improve it.

Valerie Emerick

Valerie Emerick

Valerie currently works in Philanthropy & Alumni Engagement at Augusta University as a philanthropy writer. Her fifteen-year career includes technical, grant, news, and feature writing.
Augusta, Georgia