Using Card Sorts and Tree Tests to Influence Information Architecture and Naming Conventions

Information architectures (IAs) are blueprints for how a website organizes it content. IAs specify where content natively lives within the website illustrate hierarchies, labels, and other characteristics. When developing a website, designers test IAs multiple ways to ensure content is placed in locations users expect to find it.

ACC’s website redesign project relies heavily on a fully comprehensive and tested IA as a starting point for different sections of the website. This includes landing pages for defined users (prospects, students, faculty/staff, business/community, and alumni).

Our IA development began with creation of the creative brief and content audit. It continues with two methods of user testing: Card sorting, which helps create the initial IA draft; and tree testing, which tests the drafted IA’s effectiveness.

Card Sorting

The web team will use a card-sorting exercise with different user audiences to ensure information is labeled and organized effectively.

We create a set of cards, each representing a piece of content, which users will organize into categories. The terminology of the cards and categories can be pre-determined or created by the user at the time of testing. For our purposes, the web team will test pre-determined terms recommended by the marketing team and college stakeholders.

In the earliest stage of the redesign project, the team conducted a card-sorting test using current ACC labels and terminology with visiting high school students. The results showed that test subjects were confused by the labels and terminology so could not effectively sort content. The early test clearly demonstrated the need to remove jargon and adopt more common language.

High school students participate in a traditional card sort. High school students participate in a traditional card sort. High school students participate in a traditional card sort.

Card sorting is currently underway and will continue until all IAs for the top tier of the ACC website redesign are complete. In the meantime, you can view the report of the card sorting exercise completed by our visiting high school students.

Tree Testing

The web team will use tree testing to ensure the effectiveness of proposed IAs with each specific user audience.

Tree testing is considered the reverse of card sorting to test the “findability” of content. To complete the test, users attempt assigned tasks using a simplified web version of the proposed IA. A computer programs tracks their activity as they navigate the test IA and attempt to complete each assigned task. In short, a tree test will measure how well we have organized and labeled content in the redesign.

Tree testing will begin in the next few weeks and continue through the duration of the project.