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User-centered review of the information architecture.

Tree Testing

Tree testing provides exact information about how well content can be found within the content structure. By means of quantitative results, the information architecture can be improved user-centered and data-driven.

Pens, Post-Its and a stack of paper are placed on a wooden base. On the top sheet of the stack, some blurred text and a tree diagram structure are visible. The boxes in the diagram are labelled "Level 1", "Level 2" and "Final Selection".

What is Tree Testing?

The content structure or information architecture is the backbone of your application as it has a great impact on the usability. If users cannot find their way around your application, they quickly feel frustrated.

A tree testing is an online survey that asks users to find important content. To do so, users navigate in the content structure of the application, which has been reduced to category terms (e.g. menu items). In the following example, a study participant is asked to find the potting soil.

An animated GIF graphic shows how a participant takes part in a tree testing study. The task reads "You are looking for potting soil for your garden". The participant clicks on "Start task", then selects "Lawn & Garden" from a list, clicks on "Lawn Care" and finally on "Potting Soil".
A study participant navigates through the content structure searching for potting soil.

To do so, the user starts with selecting the term “Lawn & Garden” followed by “Lawn Care” and finally “Potting Soil”. Afterwards, various quantitative measures such as percentage of task success show how intuitively and efficiently contents can be found.

Vice versa, the method of Card Sorting is used to develop a user-centered information architecture which can then be evaluated with a Tree Testing. Therefore, Tree Testing is also referred to as Reverse Card Sorting.

It is possible to test existing information architectures as well as new concepts or parts of concepts. Due to its quantitative character, Tree Testing is also ideal for comparative testing (A/B Testing) and for identifying the structure that provides the best usability.

Besides the quantitative results, Tree Testing also gives concrete hints for optimizing the content structure as well as the wording of category terms. Additionally, the method can be followed by a qualitative survey to deepen the understanding of users’ behavior.


Our approach to Tree Testing

First of all, we define the most important user groups and their most important tasks together with your project team. This knowledge can also be gathered through independent research measures, for example with the help of a Top Task Analysis. If a new application is to be developed, we can support you in creating a user-centric information architecture, e.g. with the help of Card Sorting.

In the next step, we create the Tree Test in a specialized online tool. The best practice is to implement the study as an on-site survey on your website or in your application.

Alternatively, participants can be recruited from our own panel. Depending on traffic and sample size the fieldwork can be finished in only a few days.

After data collection our experts analyze the results and create a report which can easily be understood by people without deeper knowledge in statistics. Additionally, we explain our recommendations to you in a workshop.


What can we find out with Tree Testing?

  • Does the navigation help users to find what they are searching for?
  • How efficiently are contents found? Intuitively or after searching for a while?
  • Which features should be prioritized?
  • Are the terms/menu items understandable (wording)?
  • Are sub-items grouped under the correct menu items?
  • Do user groups differ?
  • Does the information architecture reflect the users’ mental model?
  • What would an optimized information architecture look like?

When do we recommend Card Sorting?

Many of our customers successfully use user-centered methods such as Card Sorting or Usability-Testing to review and optimize the information architecture of their applications. Tree Testing complements these methods significantly for three reasons:

Firstly, we quantify the insights and broaden the results from qualitative methods. This allows project decisions to be made with greater certainty. Secondly, Tree Tests can be conducted before the interaction design or visual design has even started. Hence, your application is built on a solid foundation right from the start. Thirdly, a tree test allows you to efficiently and quickly check whether the information architecture must be revised at all in case of a scheduled relaunch.

Tree Testing is especially useful when:

  • An application is developed from scratch.
  • The information architecture or navigation is to be revised.
  • The information architecture has grown over the years and shall now be evaluated.
  • New areas or functionalities are going to be integrated into the application.
  • The information architecture was developed organization-centered and shall now be evaluated from a users’ perspective.
  • Quantitative, statistically validated findings are needed to make design decisions.

What are the results?

We not only provide you with a summarized overview of the results but also with detailed analyses for each individual task which show the exact potential for optimization. Upon request, we can also immediately develop an improved solution based on the findings.

If the study includes different user groups or design alternatives, we will prepare appropriate comparative analyses with the help of statistical methods.

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PowerPoint slide with the headline "Final Selection Scores". For different terms, e.g. "potting soil" and "lawn fertilizer" a percentage is indicated in a vertical bar. The higher the number, the more the bar is filled. Additionally, colours and smileys indicate that a higher percentage represents a better result.
Report with a data analysis for a task

Other interesting usability methods

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