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The Smart Yellow Pages® and Beyond

These were the questions I asked myself when I was asked to redesign the Yellow Pages in California.

The Yellow Pages are an ubiquitous reference that we accept without a thought. They are the path to the commercial environment, to our culture. Yet they are often confusing to use.

Companies are listed under one set of subheadings. If you don't happen to categorize information in the same way the telephone company does, they can be pretty inscrutable. For example, pencils are listed under the heading of Pens & Pencils—Retail, which is fine, but I would have never found them.

If you have an automobile and look up the word, you will find that fewer than ten percent of the total listings that have to do with automobiles begin with Auto.


Seek not to understand that you may believe, but believe that you may understand.

– Saint Augustine


So I asked myself, how could you look at the books from a different vantage point? How could you offer alternative ways of searching for information that would increase the chances that users could find it?

First, I decided that if the 2,300-plus headings could be grouped under larger categories, users would have a more manageable way to start their search. Also, they would be more likely to see categories that they might have never thought to look for. Home improvement, for example, would embrace the headings Carpentry, Building Supplies, Contractors, Hardware Stores. I realized it was logistically possible to assign the specific headings into general groups, such as Health-Care Services, Automobiles, Entertainment, etc.

I developed Subject Search Pages for each of the general groups. All of the specific headings were listed here followed by the page numbers of where they appear in the book.

With these books, you can skim a few pages and see things you might not think pertain to your car or home. You can use the Subject Search Pages like open stacks at a library, where in browsing through the shelves you might come across books you didn't at all anticipate finding. This approach permits you to follow your own thought process instead of the phone company's because it offers you alternative searching mechanisms.

Enabling the user to look at the information from different vantage points also suggested other ways to present or organize. Entries could be organized by their hours of operation or their location. For instance, I would like to know all the automobile places or car rentals, pharmacies, or restaurants that are open twenty-four hours a day in my neighborhood. You can access things by interest, then access them by task, and then by time in much the same way.

Figure 27

Each way of organizing the book provides new information. The listings stay the same, but the means of searching for them have been varied and expanded.

The product and service listings already exist; what I am doing is offering a variety of ways to access the same information, without barriers.


Mexican Yellow Pages Project

Recently, I have been consulting on a new Yellow Pages project planned for Mexico. We're producing a library of four separate Yellow Pages books: Home & Clothing, Transportation & Travel, Computers, Learning & Finance, and Health, Legal, & Government.

I welcomed this project, as it meant I could reintroduce some of my original concepts intended for the Pacific Bell Smart Yellow Pages, which were not implemented. And, best of all, I could introduce new features that I have come up with over the past 13 years to improve on my original concepts.

I'm fascinated with the word "source" and "find it" and the power that a company or product would gain were it to be thought of as THE SOURCE, the bible, the place to go to, the place to trust. When you combine this with our find-it society, a product in paper and electronic format that facilitates these notions is important.

I still like the phone. Perhaps that's too blasé of a statement. I love the phone. It is still my personal connection to the world (being a bad typist), my way of finding things, ideas, and exchanging information in real time.

This new set of books, which will also have an electronic iteration, will allow you to find out where something is, when businesses are open, the multiple ways of getting in touch with companies, and most importantly, the connections between products and services needed to complete a task—that is, everything having to do with your car, everything having to do with your house.

Shown here are some preliminary designs for this new library of Yellow Pages.

Figure 28

Figure 29


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