Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Card sorting for intranet information architecture

A relatively large navigation list (about 50 content areas) of ‘un-substructured’ finance related material. The intranet in question uses single menu pages for each of 8 main information groups and the above list was part of the wider finance information group. Some work had already be done on other subsections (i.e purchasing). But the rest of the content, which included policies, procedures and other reference material, was all in the same sub-section. The list was structured by alphabetical order only.

Break up into smaller sub-sections based on broad user group input from card sorting exercises and well as key business owners.


1. Meet with area business owner/intranet champion to discuss probable breakdown

This helps get a general picture of a possible breakdown and a ‘super user/ content provider’ framework for comparison with user group information. The champion may also be able to help identify users from throughout the organisation. It is possible to get a general idea of the possible solution (n this case some basic areas were apparent i.e. tax, payments etc).

2. Create user groups from throughout the organisation

Small groups can sometimes work better than single users, as not all users understand or have used every bit of content within the section. Using a collaborative user approach helps develop a wider understanding of the content, provides a wider organisation viewpoint, and promotes discussion and a collaborative approach to solving intranet issues (reinforces the idea of it being an organisational tool).

It is important that users come from a wide range of backgrounds including level of use, group or department and position type (administrators, analysts, managers etc).

3. Run the sessions

These are probably best run separately but I ran two groups (4 participants each) at either ends of the room (good sized room where groups weren’t getting overheard). This also meant the possibility for each group to be able to discuss and comment on the other group’s results.

Participants were encouraged to see from a ‘generalist’ point of view. While subjectivity will always play a part, I usually take the opportunity to push for an ‘idiots guide’ understanding and structure.

How would you group finance content for a non-finance person?

Sessions used numbered cards (for easy recording). User groups were instructed to sort the cards into logical content groupings. They were also asked to name each sub-section and write it on a new card.

For more information of running card-sorting exercises, see the simple but excellent reference material from information and design.

4. Collate and compare results

After collating the results into a comparison excel spreadsheet showing the initial draft framework and the results from each user group.

Results were generally quite similar between the groups as well as the initial ‘heuristic’ framework. Obviously the bigger the differences the more work involved in collating, comparison and analysis.

Results were then grouped together into one framework, first based on similarities and the on a in a ‘best merge approach’. This was done in conjunction with the business owner and some key users.

The resulting structure was sent out to all participants for any final comments.

From the single group of 50 areas we managed to create 8 (I suggested that below 10 sub-sections was something to aim for if possible) differing sub-sections (of about 5 -6 areas each). We also managed to identify some areas that were no longer relevant or needed urgent changes.

5. Confirm groupings and get managerial input/ sign off

On finalising of the new IA I then had it confirmed with a manager/s from the area (in this case finance) to agree to the approach and results. This avoided any possible political issues (I never cease to be amazed at what gets people upset and how naming of a section or grouping of information can be a political issue!).

6. Implement the new IA

Some points

  • Make it enjoyable (or at least interesting). Provide participants with some lunch and refreshments and create an atmosphere where people feel comfortable discussing and working collaboratively. Keep the IA/ usability rhetoric to a low level.
  • Avoid domination by certain subject matter experts.
  • Stress and focus on collaboration and get everyone involved. Everyone’s opinion is worthwhile. It is the user’s perspective that helps define successful IA.
  • If resources and time provided running individual sessions (or more groups in a larger organisation) would be useful. Many practitioners prefer a more individual user approach but this takes more time and resources.
  • Develop a process that works and utilise it for future exercises. The above process is by no means the only way to achieve a successful outcome so do you research and test out a few ideas.

Use the groups/sessions for additional information gathering

Related content linkages

An additional exercise was run after the card sorting and implementation of the new IA. The same users indicated usage linkages between material.
This formed the basis of ‘related links’ areas at the bottom of each of the pages involved in the card sorting.

User feedback

Use the opportunity of the card-sorting group’s discussion to take note of any interesting viewpoints even if unrelated to the exercise (how many opportunities do you get to listen to users openly discuss intranet content issues in a relaxed environment?).

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