User Testing

Website designers and information architects tend to imagine that the end user thinks the same way they do. They imagine that the navigation systems that they come up with will be intuitive to the world. This is a lie. One of the best ways to prove it is to subject any website to a series of simple tests. In this video, we'll look at a couple of ways to put your information architecture through its paces.


Tree Tests

Using the website of Carnival Cruise Lines as an example, I asked a group of users to complete three separate tasks on Carnival's website. My data was collected using an online product called Treejack. I asked them to indicate which path on the site they thought would allow them to successfully do the following.

  • Find information for people who need food that's gluten-free during their cruise
  • Find information on ticket discounts offered to members of the military
  • Find a cruise that goes to Kona, Hawai

See how my test subjects performed by watching the video summary.

Card Sorting

A card sort allows you to see if users will categorize content the same way that you would. You can use the feedback collected during these tests to adjust your plan for site structure. In this particular example using the Carnival website, I was surprised by the results. My test subjects chose to bin the cards in a category different than that chosen by the designers of the Carnival Cruise website for 13 out of the 25 cards. That’s a full 52% disagreement. I think much of the confusion for the test subjects comes from two things: the ambiguous meaning of two of the main categories that Carnival uses, Explore and Plan, and second, the fact that topics suggested by the language used on the cards was unclear.

In 30 minutes, simple tests like these can tell you more about your site architecture plan than a month of planning in isolation.