In the fourth of our planning your new intranet videos, John explains how online ‘card’ sorting can help discover the navigation structure that suits your people. Subscribe to our YouTube channel for more.
One of the first things you define when designing a new intranet is the navigation, what information sits where. We decide first on the top level items, then the second level, and so on.
How well the navigation is structured will have a big influence on the success of an intranet. Therefore, rather than just guessing and hoping we get it right, we like to test early on with real users and make sure that our navigation really does make sense. This can all be done before any of the site is built using a technique called tree testing.
What we do is give the user two things. First, a piece of information that they need to find on the intranet. The second thing is that we actually give them the top level of the navigation. The user then has to click on the item in that navigation that they think will contain the piece of information they’re looking for. And they do that then through the levels, until they reach the end of the navigation.
This is all done using online software which means that you can invite a large number of people to participate, and that gives you more meaningful results. This software normally includes analysis tools that allows you to see where people struggled to find the right information. Also you can see where people made the wrong decision and decided to backtrack. It’s best to ask users to try and find information that you struggled to categorise yourself. These are often the areas of most debate, and theyre the ones you need to find consensus on.
Businesses are complex, even if they don’t have a lot of staff, they have a lot of information, different processes and terminology. A big part of designing an effective intranet is making sure that we define the right information architecture.
The information architecture, or I.A., is basically the structuring of information, how we should organise things. The problem with this is that everyone seems to see this in a different way, everyone has a different mental model. So what we need to do is find the consensus so that we create an information architecture which makes sense to the most people possible.
In order to understand how different users see the business and how we should organise the information we run a series of card sorting sessions. Card sorting is a design technique that involves users. We write different topics of information on individual cards and then we ask the users to group those cards into logical categories.
There are two types of card sorting. An open sort is where the participants can invent their own categories, and this is useful when you’re creating a new site and you need to define a completely new information architecture. A closed sort is different, in this case the participants, have to categorise the information into pre-existing groups. And this is useful if you’ve got an existing information architecture and you need to bring in a lot of new information in to it.
The old fashioned way to do card sorting is face to face with users, using actual physical cards. It’s more time consuming but you do get more qualitative insight because you get to ask people what they’re thinking as they perform the task. Alternatively you can use online software to run your card sorting exercise. This is good because it gives you a larger sample size and you can get more quantitative insight. Such software often comes with built-in analysis tools that allow you to make more sense of the data. Ultimately whichever way you run your card sorting you should find that you have an improved sense of the I.A. that will resonate most with the majority of users.