Well-read Yellow Pages. Will more people walk their fingers through this new index design?
| Los Angeles
APPARITIONS ... poltergeists ... phantasms? ``Who ya gonna call? Ghostbusters.'' The song from the popular movie illustrates the problem that faces every marketing community trying to match buyers with sellers: How do you categorize your service or product - arcane or otherwise - so that people can locate it without already knowing it exists? Unaware of the above organization, for instance, would you look in the Yellow Pages under ``G'' for ``ghost'' or ``S'' for ``spook''? The problem is not only central to a successful marketing compendium, it's also central to the art of presenting any information in logical, accessible, understandable ways in this age of data glut.
Enter Richard Saul Wurman, the self-styled ``oracle of orderliness,'' who has a string of awards for his revolutionary ``Access'' guidebooks to cities. ``The so-called `information explosion' of data, writing, facts, and figures is an explosion of non-information,'' he says, ``until it is designed for non-threatening, easy access.''
An architect who long ago declared war on chaos and clutter, Mr. Wurman is a student of what he calls the ``morphology'' of information. ``You only understand something relative to something else you understand,'' he is fond of saying. He likens thinking and learning to a search in a bookstore or open-stack library. ``You go looking for one book, end up browsing, and then take home the books on either side of it.''
How you decide to organize information is very important. ``Why do people always use the alphabet?'' he asks. ``Categories are what drive interest. You can organize a listing of dogs by size - that's how we see dogs first. You can organize a medical book by types of surgery starting at the head and moving to the toes.''
The Pacific Bell Yellow Pages recently came to Wurman with a problem: Fewer people were using the Yellow Pages in California, even though the number of small businesses - 85 percent of the directory's advertising - was growing. Since usage is the name of the game for advertiser, user, and publisher, thought John Gaulding, Pacific Bell Yellow Pages czar, can't someone design a classified section that people can understand and use in ways they never knew were possible?
After being assigned the project, Wurman says, ``I started by asking, `What do I want to know from this book?' I answered, `This is a dictionary to everything around me, a commercial compendium to all of life in America, to all the stuff of existence. How do I access it?'''
The quest that followed resulted in Pacific Bell's new SMART Yellow Pages, with a new slogan: ``Let your fingers do the running.'' Besides snappier graphics, the new directory's most radical innovation is its detailed subject-search indexes. Based on the directory's major revenue-producing headings - automotive, boating, house remodeling and garden, health and well-being, entertainment, etc. - 14 new indexes begin the directory.
Since Wurman's research found that less than 10 percent of those things having to do with automobiles begin with ``a,'' users will find 12 breakdowns under ``Automotive,'' with page numbers telling them where to go. Mopeds and all-terrain vehicles, for instance, appear under ``Other Vehicles.'' Under ``Accessories,'' users will find tape players and burglar-alarm systems. Under ``Parts,'' they will find tire recapping and retreading.
Similarly, under ``Health and Well-Being,'' people searching for a doctor may find out about residential care facilities or drugless practitioners. Someone looking for a way to stop drinking will find facilities for drug abuse, gambling, and smoking as well. ``Entertainment'' takes you to ``Hobbies'' or ``Clubs,'' and from there to ``Magicians'' or ``Tennis Clubs - Private.''
The new process aids searchers the way a good thesaurus aids seasoned writers - it takes them down roads they didn't know were there and then plops them at a destination with downright satisfying specificity.
``People don't think and behave alphabetically, although we've tried to make them,'' says Mr. Gaulding, whose company is betting $1.5 million that consumers and advertisers will like the new Yellow Pages. ``When they have a problem with their foot, they don't look up `podiatrist,' they say, `I'm sick.' Now they find help simply under ``Health.''
``The phone books haven't stopped listing things alphabetically - we've just given you another opportunity to find things by interest group,'' says Wurman.
Pacific Bell officials were so taken with the SMART concept that they distributed the new directory to 3.1 million Greater Los Angeles households earlier this month. With the deregulation of the phone company, many competing yellow pages are looking for buyers. ``We want to make sure there's no reason for consumers to turn to a competitive book,'' says product manager Cheri Ireland. There are 131 different directories for Los Angeles County, put out by seven publishers. Statewide, there are 25 publishers.
Next year, the SMART design will have maps and color indexing to help you find all of the above - broken down into areas 20 minutes from your house. After that will come redesigning and making ads uniform. ``We want to keep the individuality of each ad,'' says Wurman, ``but we need to make sure certain information - business title, address, phone number - is always in the same place. The way it is now is chaos.''