Bookkeeping befuddles me, but I must do it. I tread carefully, because mistakes can accrue and become difficult to resolve over time. I started managing my company’s finances with QuickBooks Online, so I hired a bookkeeper to show me the ropes on the software and make sure I’m doing things right.

“There are only three things in QuickBooks,” she started, “lists, transactions, and reports.” She explained the differences between them. Then she showed me how to move around the system: “This is your main menu on the left. That’s where you access the main parts of the app. This plus sign opens a secondary menu that lets you take various actions. The gear menu is your settings.” Finally, she explained the chart of accounts: “The accounts above this line are real accounts, like your bank accounts. The ones below are just categories.” In less than 10 minutes I had a better understanding of the software and what I could do with it.

This bookkeeper had translated the system’s concepts and structures to a language I could understand. In the process, she reminded me that:

  1. a clear conceptual model is of paramount importance,

  2. navigation structures are an essential means of conveying that conceptual model to the user, and

  3. system taxonomies can have subtle but significant differences that aren’t obvious to non-experts.

Lessons in information architecture.