I just returned from a conference on usability and design issues. Like most, it focused on the latest research in those areas.

But this conference was a particularly fascinating one, in that one of the issues that kept coming out was how content has changed everything.

In the old days, we never paid attention to content. When we designed a product, like a word processor, we only focused on how the user interacted with the product. We never focused on what they wrote -- their content.

But now, browsers don't really do anything without content. What makes or breaks a web site is the content involved. And content is really hard.

How should it be organized? How should it be written? What can we leave out? What must we include? Does order matter? Does presentation matter? We're just now getting a glimpse of how much we need to learn to answer these questions.

To help with this quest of understanding content, let's look at understanding the middle of the location process. How should mid-level categories (or "departments" as we call them) be designed? Does the layout of the information matter?

By looking at how a particular category of e-commerce (apparel & home goods) solves the problem, we get some insight as to what matters and what doesn't.

So let's get to it

How does a site containing thousands of pages of content get users to the content they seek quickly?

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Jared M. Spool is a leading expert in the field of usability and design since 1978, before the term "usability" was ever associated with computers. He is the Founding Principal of User Interface Engineering (www.uie.com), the largest usability research organization of its kind in the world.