The page I'm designing is a list of publications. There are two ways it could be sorted. Does one have a known or documented usability (or other!) advantage over the other?

Here is the first way:

- Subject 1
    * Publication 1 (English)
    * Publication 1 (Spanish)    
- Subject 2 
    * Publication 2 (English)
    * Publication 2 (Spanish)
- (etc. - there are about 15 to 20 subjects)

Here is the second way:

- English:
    * Publication 1
    * Publication 2 
    * (etc. about 15 to 20 subjects)

- Spanish:
    * Publication 1
    * Publication 2
    * (etc. about 15 to 20 subjects)

The majority of our audience is English-speaking.

  • In the first way there's Subject/Publication/Language, but in the second there's only Language/Publication. Where do you put subject in the second way?
    – Izhaki
    Commented Jan 8, 2014 at 2:54
  • I'd say subject and publication would be a visitor's primary interest and not his/her language. When I find an article is not available in any language I understand, I can choose to have it translated. Which is much better than not finding / seeing the article at all or having to go through several lists to see whether it contains a publication on the subject in which I am interested. Commented Jan 8, 2014 at 7:40

3 Answers 3


Welcome to the world of Information Architecture, where everything can be classified in more than one way. The reason is that anything (or shall I write - any thing) has more than one property, or in the IA jargon - a facet. Even God can be Christian or Muslim, omnipresent or monopresent, religious or scientific.

While it is hard to give a definite answer without a better description of the project; and while in any case your main classification scheme should be based on user research rather than 'documented usability' or educated advice like the one I'm giving you here... I feel you are considering language to be a candidate for an hierarchical (or structural) class, where in fact it is nothing but a facet.

A subject and its publications are clearly linked, language is nothing but what describes a property of a publication. I can easily see year-of-publication becoming a requirement at some stage.

Thus, you should really stick to the subject/publication hierarchy and allow users to filter the list by language using a faceted filter (see example image below).

Having said that, given the actual nature of your project and its users, this may not be the ideal solution.

Shed more details on your project if this answer seems dubious to you.

A screengrab showing faceted search box on the left of search results

  • Thank you! There are generally only 1-3 publications per subject, and the publication title contains the subject info. We don't need date because we only show the most current. I'm trying to introduce the concept of user testing, as all we've done are focus groups. And yes, this is Information Architecture (LOL!)! I may or may not be able to convince the content stakeholders that Español should not be a class: I personally worry that separating it out and putting it last might make Spanish-speakers feel like second-class citizens.
    – Chris
    Commented Jan 8, 2014 at 16:45

I'd recommend a variation on your second approach. Have the users see:

  • English:
    • Publication 1
    • Publication 2
    • (etc. about 15 to 20 subjects)

.. as a default view but include flag icons above the list. When the user clicks on the Spanish flag, the English versions are hidden and the Spanish ones are shown. That way, the functionality is optimised for the majority of your users.

  • 1
    Please don't use flags to indicate language. ux.stackexchange.com/a/11894/8207
    – Erics
    Commented Jan 7, 2014 at 23:36
  • Why? Wouldn't topics be the primary interest? If it turns out an article or topic is available only in languages I don't understand, I can choose to have it translated. Which is much better than not finding it at all. Commented Jan 8, 2014 at 7:37

I think the second way makes more sense (and to add, you should show Spanish as Español, French as François, etc.) because listing first by subject constrains you to one language which would alienate your non-English (or whatever language you decide to use) speaking users.

However, I feel like this is something more for you to ultimately decide since you know your user base much better than I do. If the vast majority of your users speak English, I feel as if the first option provides a better experience.

  • Thanks, all. This is California, so most of our Spanish speakers seem to know some English even if they can't fluently read an article written in English. The titles of the Spanish publications are in Spanish, so for instance under Aphids the English publication is "Aphids" while the Spanish one is "Áfidos o pulgones". And yes, when we have a separate section by language it's called "Español".
    – Chris
    Commented Jan 8, 2014 at 16:39

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