Exactly how and when did this happen? I just got off the phone with another in a long list of clients who used the word “bucket” several times during a conversation about information architecture. In olden times we used words like “categories” or “sections” but these new kids are dropping their own slang as if creating a website is the new rap-battle.

Neither of the established books on the subject of information architecture—Don’t Make Me Think! or the Polar Bear Book—have an indexed reference for the word “bucket”. Does the word really work that much better than long established terms? No. The preferred word, “category”, is used to described “things having shared characteristics” while “bucket” is a “container”. One implies the relationship of things while the other is an object you put things in with absolutely no relationship implied.

From what I can tell this has happened as the result of more and more clients taking on the role of information architect. In the last two years almost half of our clients have come to us finished site map in hand and eager to drop the B-bomb. I don’t believe that’s the result of failure on the part of web designers and developers but the client believing that they know what works for them. A few months ago we pushed back on sitemap generated by a client. Before coming to us they formed an ad hoc group and met for six weeks to re-categorize their existing site into a new, mythical world of Bucketopia.

In these situations the client is rarely considering the user or goals and objectives for their online presence. Rather these groups often use this exercise to help make sense of their own internal world which doesn’t translate into a great experience for the user (We got one site map that was drawn up according to the companies organization chart once and that was such a happy-fun project). It’s not that I don’t think clients are capable of crafting a proper sitemap. We have had several clients come to us with some really great information architecture—wireframes and all—but anytime I hear the word “bucket” it’s like the someone just handed me a piece of wrinkled, tattered paper marked with a black spot.

Using the word “bucket” in web development is the equivalent of using the words “things” or “stuff” in conversation. In both cases details are hit-and-run over by the practice of subtle oversimplification. The result is an experience that lacks eloquence, education, and energy.

Rather than let “buckets” become or own “axe” we ought to push back in these circumstances and do our best to help the client understand why their own internal review and lingo doesn’t always craft a better experience. If they want to form in-house tickle-clubs and create their own linguistics so be it, but let them do those things and stuff like that for their accounting or human relations, not web development.

Lastly, a highly accurate representation of the bucket/client relationship.