America's Test Kitchen


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Organization System

Organization Scheme

America’s Test Kitchen (ATK) uses an ambiguous organization scheme on the Home page. The hybrid system is organized into two categories: topical and functional.

Topical Organization

Information is organized topically at the top of the page for users looking to find:
  • Recipes
  • Equipment recommendations
  • Results from taste tests
  • Information that explains the science behind the cooking
  • Access to content from particular TV episodes (by season)
  • TV shows to watch

Functional Organization

Functional information and tasks are grouped in three main areas on the Home page. In the top right-hand corner, users can click Login, Register for Free, or Become a Member, to access the so-called Premium Content. The lower right-hand corner is reserved for special links; that is, Christopher Kimball’s Blog, Listen to our Radio Show, Video Tips & Techniques, Buy Rated Cookware, and Wine & Food Pairings. The lower left-hand corner is reserved for special offers such as a free trial issue of the Cook’s Illustrated Magazine or a 14-day free trial of the ATK web membership.

Organization Structure

The hierarchy is structured with a fairly broad and deep, top-down approach. The Recipes page, for example, lists thirteen categories ranging from Beans and Grains to Soups and Stews. Within each subcategory, an index of recipes displays with title and thumbnail-size pictures. A user looking for a recipe to make Chicken Noodle Soup would need to click through three screens to find instructions.

A cursory analysis reveals opportunities for changes at the global and local navigation levels. For example, local navigation on the Science page displays elements labeled Season 1 through Season 11. While this may be a helpful way for some users to find something they saw on TV, I suspect the majority of visitors will be confused about this element.

Labeling System

The ATK website makes use of textual and iconic labels. The Home page textual labels seem fairly straightforward to me because I have developed a mental model and I am familiar with their system. Newcomers, however, may not understand that the Equipment page provides reviews of kitchen equipment. Or that a similar format is followed on the Taste Tests page where a panel of tasters have sampled and rated food items. The Science page may be puzzling for many visitors to the site, as well. The Episodes label is likely confusing to new visitors to the site, particularly if they are not aware of the TV show. The Watch our Show page is probably more readily understandable.

Other textual labels used on the website are headings and contextual links. The heading, Featured Links, doesn’t require translation nor do the links listed underneath, which have textual and iconic labels for Christopher Kimball’s Blog and for Listen to our Radio Show.

This website balances the textual labels with a number of other types of iconic labels, too. For example, the underwriters who fund the broadcasts (TV and radio) are identified on the Home page by their logos. Clicking a logo will open the sponsor’s website in a new window. It is interesting to note that the social networks, Facebook and Twitter, are only represented with iconic logos.

Navigation System

The global navigation bar at the top contains the six topical categories—Recipes, Equipment, Taste Tests, Science, Episodes, Watch Our Show—and it is present on all screens. Colors and location are consistent on the site. The Search box gives users an option for query; useful, for example if they want to find a particular recipe.

A certain flexibility and opportunity for browsing is available with indexes on the main pages. A user looking for recommendations for a small appliance can see seven options on the local navigation bar. The Small Appliances page, for example, displays contextual navigation that includes a title for each option with thumbnail images of items that range from waffle irons to coffee makers.

The site does not display breadcrumbs, nor does it include special guides. Since it’s easy to get a little lost on this website, additional navigation such as breadcrumbs would be helpful. Culinary language used in the recipes might be more accessible if a glossary was included, as well.

Home Page Analysis


ATK’s Home page abides by Janice Redish’s five major functions of home pages most effectively for members and people who are familiar with the TV show (47 – 48). To break the analysis down by function:

1. Identifying the site, establishing the brand
ATK’s logo is located in the upper left-hand corner where I’d expect to find it; the name is incorporated in the logo. A well-known tag line, “We make the mistakes so you don’t have to.” is not included on the Home page anymore. Instead, a new tag line is featured: “Every Recipe. Every Review. Every Show.”

2. Setting the tone and personality of the site
An image of two smiling people standing at a counter dominates the Home page. The woman wears a navy chef’s coat and slices a loaf of bread; the man, wearing a red apron, stands next to her and watches what she’s doing. For people familiar with the TV show, this image models the cooking episodes. The woman is Julia, one of two chefs who normally demonstrate the cooking. The man is Christopher Kimball, founder of the corporation. Typically he does not cook; rather, he observes, asks questions, and explains what the chefs are doing. His red apron matches the red in the logo and his position on the screen is top and center. He’s the boss. His bow tie and apron suggest, however, that he doesn’t do the cooking. Indeed, on the show, he functions as the host and chef’s assistant.

Underwriter logos are sandwiched between the large, static image and revolving images underneath. The logos are presented next to the heading with the words, “Series funded by” and explained with the link, “Why we have underwriters.” This type of advertisement is necessary for a business seeking funding through PBS. This method is in keeping with ATK’s policy of no advertising. By explaining the logos, ATK’s ethos is defensible and trust is more easily established with its audience (e.g., their equipment reviews and taste testing panels are not influenced by advertisers).

Revolving images attract my attention and give me the feeling that there’s a lot going on with this website. Images advertise such things as America’s Test Kitchen Radio show, The America’s Test Kitchen Healthy Family Cookbook, Cook’s Illustrated iPod application, and a tour of their test kitchen (static images, not a video). Based on the use of multimedia, ATK appeals to users’ various needs and environments. Giving viewers a tour of their kitchen reminds me that they want an open, trusting relationship with their audience.

Bright, primary colors suggest activity. I assume ATK wants to energize and motivate their audience into the kitchen. The writing style is direct. While the page is a little cluttered-looking, it is not text-heavy and I can easily scan it to grab information.

3. Helping people get a sense of what the site is all about
It looks like the website’s primary audience is familiar with their TV show. The website relies on viewers’ knowledge about ATK (e.g., who the people are in the images and about the meaning of the navigation labels). For example, the Equipment label translates to the equipment testing segment of their show. First-time site visitors probably would not know what the label means. But not all of their choices make sense to me, a long-time TV show viewer. Overall, even if you aren’t familiar with the TV show or the website, it is fairly clear what it’s about—virtually everything (text and images) on the Home page relates to the preparation of food.

4. Letting people start key tasks immediately
Since the website features the 2011 TV companion set (cookbook and DVD), at the top, it looks like ATK wants to task users with buying the set. Links for logging in, registering for a free 14-day trial membership, and purchasing memberships or subscriptions (to ATK websites or magazines) are all located in the upper right-hand corner of the screen. These are tasks that I expect to find in this location.The Search box is near the top of the page and is prominent and recognizable with its signature ATK-red color.

5. Sending each person on the right way, effectively and efficiently
The contextual links are clear (e.g., “Read Chris’ latest updates” under the link to his blog), but the global navigation labels are not all meaningful because ATK doesn’t always use site visitor’s words. For example, unexpected content displays on the “Science” page, which contains scientific explanations for questions that might occur to cooks such as: How do soufflés get their dramatic rise?

Pathway Analysis


The Recipe page observes most of Redish’s eight points for well-structured pathway pages (54). The following comments address each point:

1. Most site visitors are on a hunt for something and the pathway is just a way to get them there.
It is not an accident that the Recipe page is listed first in the global navigation bar. The website states: “Cooking first. Great recipes are the heart of the show and the test kitchen.” The “scent of information” about recipes is strong and clear. People should feel confident about what they will find on this page.

2. People don’t want to read a lot while hunting.
The thumbnail image and straightforward recipe name clearly and efficiently describe the main ingredients and gives a good visual of the food.

3. A pathway page is like a table of contents.
Local navigation, along the left-hand side of the screen, provides a good index for recipe hunters (e.g., Desserts, Vegetables, and Meat). If site visitors are regular TV show viewers, the contextual links for Current Season recipes are even more readily accessible. However, I’m not sure that the names of the TV episodes under the thumbnails help people find what they’re looking for.

4. Sometimes a short description helps people.
The recipe names function like a short description. The pictures of the dishes and the recipe names together help users efficiently access recipe instructions.

5. Marketing is likely to be ignored on a pathway page.
At first blush, the advertisement for a free trial membership may seem out of place on this page. But visitors who are not members of the ATK website will soon learn that most recipes are considered “premium content” and are not viewable. In order to access all of the recipes, viewers must be paying members of the ATK website.

6. The smoothness of the path is more important than the number of clicks (within reason).
In general, members can get to recipes within three clicks for most of their searches without the Back button or long consideration. But for nonmembers, it can be annoying that premium content recipes and free content recipes are not distinguished on this page. While there are some free recipes, the vast majority are only accessible to members. The Search box is helpful if a special recipe is needed.

7. Many people choose the first option that looks plausible.
Visitors to the Recipe page might need to “satisfice” if they have a very particular type of recipe in mind. Also, given the ATK mission, “to develop the absolute best recipes for all of your favorite foods,” the definition of “favorite foods” is too broad and subjective.

8. Many site visitors are landing inside your site.
The Recipe page is not a dead end. The page has the site’s logo, global navigation bar, Search box, relevant information (e.g., trial membership ad and the Register for Free link at the top), and a link to the Home page.

Morville, Peter, and Louis Rosenfeld. Information Architecture for the World Wide Web. Sebastopol, CA: O'Reilly Media, Inc., 2007. Print.
Redish, Janice. Letting Go of the Words: Writing Web Content that Works. San Francisco, CA: Elsevier, Inc., 2007. Print.