Card Sorting and IA tool roundup

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News Update:  Ben and I are converging on the LessConf in Atlanta today.  You can look forward to reports from the unusual web developer / startup / entrepreneur conference hosted by LessEverything, makers of LessAccounting and LessTimeSpent and clients of BUX. Now back to your regularly scheduled UX post.

Today we leave Web analytics and move over to Information Architecture techniques.  Let me try to establish the relationship between the two subjects.

Web Analytics is a way to get to know your users by their behavior on the site. It’s observation. It’s passive. In web analytics, you don’t disturb the user and collect data on how they use the site.

Information architecture (IA) is the way a site is structured, but not just the site map or the navigation. IA touches on content strategy, research and design and the whole thing.  It’s about design and development. It’s active and research oriented.  This is especially true of our tools today – They are were User Testing and IA overlap.

Under the big tent of IA, we are going to focus on two types of techniques today: Card Sorting and it’s cousin, Navigation or Menu Testing.  These tools and methods allow you validate such design decisions as how content is grouped and how navigation is presented.

In the context of the critical path, this helps define user expectations of the critical path through your site.

Card Sorting Tests

I’m most interested in Card Sort – the idea just makes sense to me. You start with a list of all the content you want on your site (or the content you think should be there – or whats already there in the case of a re-design). The user is presented with this list and is asked to categorize or group the content in a way that is logical and pleasing to them.  You collect all the groupings from all the test participants and see where there is consensus and where there is disagreement.  Tweak and repeat.

For demo tests, you need look no further than twitter.  Here is a twitter search for optimalworkshop.com which gave me a bunch of test projects looking for participants.

Navigation Tests

In navigation tests, one starts with a navigation structure – say, the main menu on your website. This menu can have one level or many. You ask a test participant to complete a logical website task. It could be to find a specific product, to find a particular piece of information. The test software records where the user clicks and notes their comments. The result is that you learn how well the navigation makes sense to users. Did they complete the test accurately and quickly?  Repeated tests will help one understand how to make simple, more elegant, more meaningful menus.

These tests are so straight forward that you can do them with actual note cards and a table. It’s basically the same process: have the user either sort or navigate through them.

And while this is all fine and good, the real power is revealed when our old friends data and statistics get together and have a sit down.

Combing through 5 or 10 tests is a job and could eat up some calculator time.  But, if you do it with 50 or 100 people, that’s gonna be a problem.  ENTER our UX tools! These tools can really streamline the entire process and give you all kinds of cool reports and results – that is to say they make it easier to get actionable data and improvements to your site.

The Card Sorting and Navigation testing tools are:

Optimal Sort

This is a card sorting tool from optimal workshop.  There is a demo of how the tests look to a participant and the results. To see how to set up a test you must sign up for the free plan. The free plan is ” small (but big enough to be useful!)” – Survey 10 people with 30 cards. I wonder if this is per month or “10, just 10 and that’s it”.  Paid plans begin at $109 a month with a discount for yearly subscription.  Steep!

Some cool features include moderated card sorting or Face-to-Face card sorting tests.  Once you configure your test, you can print the cards and run the test ‘in person’.  It’s the difference between remote and moderated tests.  Also, you have access to several professional (sounding)  reports like dendrograms and similarity matrix.

TreeJack

This is a navigation testing tool from optimal workshop. There is a good demo to see the tool as a participant and the results reports. The free plan allows you to survey 10 people with 3 tasks. Plans start at $109/month.

WebSort.net

This is the card sorting tool from UXpunk.com.  First off, I like this site more than any of the others – Very quickly and clearly I know what the tool is and how it works.  Notice the sub-heading “How does WebSort work?” – that’s what I want to see on all of these tool pages.

There is a demo, a trial test, demo videos, etc.  One nice thing is that you get to see the reporting feature, which is where the UX rubber meeting the UX road.  Here’s an interesting feature and it’s somethign that Ben and I have talked about – The pricing is based on projects, not monthly service. One project is $149 for 100 test participants.

PlainFrame.com

This is the navigation testing tool from uxpunk.com. There is no demo, but there is a free plan. The free plan would allow you to create a test with, for example, 5 questions/ tasks for 5 test participants (that’s 25 responses).  I’m not sure if that’s per month or 25 responses and then you have to upgrade.  And, like the other UXpunk products, there is a single study payment structure -A single study (1000 responses) costs $99.  This would be great for the right project.

UsabiliTEST

This is a card sorting tool. There is a participant demo and a three day trial. Doing the trial, it seems is the only way to see the results report.  They don’t have example reports to view without signing in. Bummer.  Plans start at 10 bucks a month.

Final Thoughts

There you have it.  One of these tools will surely get you started on testing your IA design decisions.  In future posts we’ll dive into these tools and do proper reviews. What about you guys? Have you used these or any other tools? Let me know in the comments.

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About the Author

Web Monkey from the Way Back. Interested in robust educational methods in a connected world and supporting web business. He will choose Love over Fear every time.

3 comments on “Card Sorting and IA tool roundup

  1. I’ve got some feedback for you on WebSort. We’ve been using them for years and just hit a fatal flaw.

    We’re in the middle of a sort window. Our client sent the invitation to a list far larger than we expected. Because of WebSort’s “project” fee structure, when we hit 100 participants, they just shut it down.

    The worst part is that trying to get it reopened took almost 24 hours. They are highly unresponsive. We’ve tried Twitter, their website feedback, emailing support. They don’t communicate at all.

    Finally got it reopened. Then we hit 200 and same issue all over again. At this point, we are into it for $300+ and the client is screaming about it being closed before our scheduled close.

    Suggestion: go with a service that provides unlimited participation and one that actually communicates with its clients.

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