Menu Information Architecture

Modern Diner

The Modern Diner in all its Glory. Photo credit: Elizabeth Thomsen

There’s an ongoing debate about whether design should be upheld as a specialized profession requiring serious training or whether the basics, at least, can be taught to anyone easily (without $140,000 and 4 years in design school). Some maintain that everyone is a designer to some extent whether or not he/she realizes it. In 2006, students and faculty from Maryland Institute College of Art created a book called D.I.Y: Design It Yourself that sparked quite a controversy on the subject.

Here is an example of the “everyone is a designer” side of the argument.

A menu can be thought of as a down-to-earth example of information architecture. Just about every menu does it – breaking up dishes into categories (appetizers, entrees, sides, drinks, desserts) and sometimes sub-categories (beef, poultry, seafood, vegetarian) and then individual dishes.

Whether you are designing a website, an application, a poster, or a menu, humans, unlike computers, have a fairly low limit on the amount of information they can hold in their minds at once. Common practice for the maximum number of items to include in a horizontal website navigation centers around 7. This is close to the human digit span of 7 +/- 2. So we do this architecture to allow users to make a series of progressive easy decisions rather than one overwhelming one.
The challenge in information architecture is how to establish those choices in a way that end users understand. Whoever designed the decidedly bare-bones menu for the Modern Diner in Pawtucket stumbled upon a key distinction to make up front which every diner-goer can easily make and which splits every breakfast food into one of two simple categories – that of “sweet” or “savory”.

Menu Side 1: Sweet


Menu Side 2: Savory

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