67 ways to use the Optimal Workshop Suite of user research tools

Alan O'Neill

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User research and design can be tough in this fast-moving world. Sometimes we can get so wrapped up in what we’re doing, or what we think we’re supposed to be doing, that we don’t take the time to look for other options and other ways to use the tools we already know and love.

I’ve compiled this list over last few days (my brain hurts) by talking to a few customers and a few people around the office. I’m sure it's far from comprehensive. I’ve focused on quick wins and unique examples. I’ll start off with some obvious ones, and we’ll get a little more abstract, or niche, as we go. I hope you get some ideas flying as you read through, enjoy!

#1 Benchmark your information architecture (IA)

Without a baseline for your IA, you can’t easily tell if any changes you make have a positive effect. If you haven’t done so, benchmark your existing website on Treejack now. Upload your site structure and get results the same day. Now you’ll have IA scores to beat each month. Easy.

#2 Find out precisely where people get lost

Use the Treejack Pietree to find out exactly where people are getting lost in your website structure and where they go instead. You can also use Chalkmark for this if you’re only interested in the first click, and let’s face it, that is where you’ll get the biggest bang for your buck.

#3 Start at the start

If you’re just not sure where to begin then take a screenshot of your homepage, or any page that you think might have some issues and get going with Chalkmark. Write up a string of things that people might want to do when they find themselves on this page and use these as your tasks. Surprise all your colleagues with a maddening heatmap showing where people actually clicked in response to your tasks. Now you’ll know have a better idea of which area of your site to focus a tree test or card sort on for your next step.

#4 A/B test your site structure

Treejack is great for testing more than one content structure. It’s easy to run two separate Treejack studies — even more than two. It’ll help you decide which structure you and your team should run with, and it won’t take you long to set them up. Learn more.

#5 Make collaborative design decisions

Use OptimalSort to get your team involved and let their feedback feed your designs — logos, icons, banners, images, the list goes on. By creating a closed image sort with categories where your team can group designs based on their preferences, you can get some quick feedback to help you figure out where you should focus your efforts.

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#6 Do your (market) research

Card sorting is a great UX research technique, but it can also be a fun way to involve your users in some market research. Get a better sense of what your users and customers actually want to see on your website, by conducting an image sort of potential products. By providing categories like ‘I would buy this’, ‘I wouldn’t buy this’ to indicate their preferences for each item, you can figure out what types of products appeal to your customers.

#7 Customer satisfaction surveys with Questions

The thoughts and feelings of your users are always important. A simple Questions survey can help you take a deeper look at your checkout process, a recently launched product or service, or even on the packaging your product arrives in — your options are endless.

#8 Crowdsource content ideas

Whether you’re running a blog or a UX conference, Questions can help you generate content ideas and understand any knowledge gaps that might be out there. Figure out what your users and attendees like to read on your blog, or what they want to hear about at your event, and let this feed into what you offer.

#9 Do some sociological research

Using card sorting for sociological research is a great way to deepen your understanding of how different groups may categorize information. Rather than focusing solely on how your users interact with your product or service, consider broadening your research horizons to understand your audience’s mental models. For example, by looking at how young people group popular social media platforms, you can understand the relationships between them, and identify where your product may fit in the mix.

#10 Create tests to fit in your onboarding process

Onboarding new customers is crucial to keeping them engaged with your product, especially if it involves your users learning how to use it. You can set up a quick study to help your users stay on track with onboarding. For example, say your company provided online email marketing software. You can set up a Chalkmark study using a photo of your app, with a task asking your participants where they’d click to see the open rates for a particular email that went out.

#11 Quantify the return on investment of UX

Some people, including UX Agony Aunt, define return on UX as time saved, money made, and people engaged. By attaching a value to the time spent completing tasks, or to successful completion of tasks, you can approximate an ROI or at least illustrate the difference between two options.

#12 Collate all your user testing notes into Reframer

Making sense of your notes from qualitative research activities can be simultaneously exciting and overwhelming. It’s fun being out on the field and jotting down observations on a notepad, or sitting in on user interviews and documenting observations into a spreadsheet. You can now easily import all your user research and give it some traceability.

 

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#13 Establish which tags or filters people consider to be the most important

Create a card sort with your search filters or tags as labels, and have participants rank them according to how important they consider them to be. Analytics can tell you half of the story (where people actually click), so the card sort can give another side: a better idea of what people actually think or want.

#14 Reduce content on landing pages to what people access regularly

Before you run an open card sort to generate new category ideas, you can run a closed card sort to find out if you have any redundant content. Say you wanted to simplify the homepage of your intranet. You can ask participants to sort cards (containing homepage links) based on how often they use them. You could compare this card sort data with analytics from your intranet and see if people’s actual behavior and perception are well aligned.

#15 Crowd-source the values you want your team/brand/product to represent

Card sorting is a well-established technique in the ‘company values’ realm, and there are some great resources online (and a few very cool products) to help you and your team brainstorm the values you represent. These ‘in-person’ brainstorm sessions are great, and you can run a remote closed card sort to support your findings. And if you want feedback from more than a small group of people (if your company has, say, more than 15 staff) you can run a remote closed card sort on its own. Use Microsoft’s Reaction Card Method as card inspiration.

#16 Input your learnings and observations from a UX conference with Reframer

If you're lucky enough to attend a UX conference, you can now share the experience with your colleagues. You can easily jot down ideas quotes and key takeaways in a Reframer project and keep your notes organized by using a new session for each presenter  Bonus — if you’re part of a team, they can watch the live feed rolling into Reframer!

#17 Find out what actions people take across time

Use card sorting to understand when your participants are most likely to perform certain activities over the course of a day, week, or over the space of a year. Create categories that represent time, for example, ‘January to March’, ‘April to June’, ‘July to September’, and ‘October to December’, and ask your participants to sort activities according to the time they are most likely to do them (go on vacation, do their taxes, make big purchases, and so on). While there may be more arduous and more accurate methods for gathering this data, sometimes you need quick insights to help you make the right decisions.

#18 Gather quantitative data on prioritizing project tasks or product features

Closed card sorting can give you data that you might usually gather in team meetings or in Post-its on the wall, or that you might get through support channels. You can model your method on other prioritization techniques, including Eisenhower’s Decision Matrix, for example.

#19 Test your FAQs page with new users

Your support and knowledge base within your website can be just as important as any other core action on your website. If your support site is lacking in navigation and UX, this will no doubt increase support tickets and resources. Make sure your online support section is up to scratch. Here’s an article on how to do it quickly.

#20 Figure out if your icons need labels

Figure out if your icons are doing their job by testing whether your users are understanding them as intended. Uploading icons you currently use, or plan to use in your interface to Chalkmark, and ask your users to identify their meaning by making use of post-task questions.

#21 Give your users some handy quick tools

In some cases, users may use your website with very specific goals in mind. Giving your users access to quick tools as soon as they land on your website is a great way to ensure they are able to get what they need done easily. Look at your analytics for things people do often that take several clicks to find, and check whether they can find your ‘quick tool’ in a single click using Chalkmark.

#22 Benchmark the IA of your competition

We all have some sort of competitors, and researchers also need to pay attention to what they get up too. Make life easy in your reporting by benchmarking their IA and then reviewing it each quarter for the board and leaders to be wowed with. Also, not a perfect comparison, as users and separate sites have different flows, but compare your success scores with theirs. Makes your work feel like the Olympics with the healthy competition going on.  

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#23 Improve website conversions

Make the marketing team’s day by doing a fast improvement on some core conversions on your website. Now, there’s loads of ways to improve conversions for a check out cart or signup form, but using Chalkmark to test out ideas before you start doing live A/B test can take mere minutes and give your B version a confidence boost.  

#24 Reduce the bounce rates of certain sections of your website

People jumping off your website and not continuing their experience is something (depending on the landing page) everyone tries to improve. The metric ‘time on site’ and ‘average page views’ is a metric that shows the value your whole website has to offer. Again, there’s many different ways to do this, but one big reason for people jumping off the website is not being able to find what they’re looking for. That’s where our IA toolkit comes in.

#25 Test your website’s IA in different countries

No, you don’t have to spend thousands of dollars to go to all these countries to test, although that’d be pretty sweet. You can remotely research participants from all over the world, using our integrated recruitment panel. Start seeing how different cultures, languages, and countries interact with your website.

#26 Run an empathy test (card sort)

Empathy – the ability to understand and share the experience of another person – is central to the design process. An empathy test is another great tool to use in the design phase because it enables you to find out if you are creating the right kind of feelings with your user. Take your design and show it to users. Provide them with a variety of words which could represent the design – for example “minimalistic”, “dynamic”, “professional” – and ask them to pick out which the words which they think are best suited to their experience.

#27 Recall test with Chalkmark

This is a technique which is a great way to find out if you have the correct visual hierarchy on the page. For example, a client may come to you and say you need to make the logo bigger as they are worried people won’t spot the branding. A recall test will test if this is correct and check whether people are seeing the things you want them to see on the page.

Show your design to a user for a small amount of time (five seconds, for example) and ask them to recall what they see, and the order in which they recall it.

#28 Take Reframer into the field

Get out of the office or the lab and observe social behavior in the field. Use Reframer to input your observation on your field research. Then head back to your office to start making sense of the data in the Theme Builder.

#29 Use heatmaps to get the first impressions of designs

Heatmaps in our Chalkmark tool are a great way of getting first impressions of any design. You can see where people clicked (correctly and incorrectly), giving you insights on what works and doesn’t work with your designs. Because it’s so fast to test, you can iterate until your designs start singing.

#30 Multivariate testing

Multivariate testing is when more than two versions of your studies are compared and allows you to understand which version performs better with your audience. Use multivariate testing with Treejack and Chalkmark to find the right design on which to focus and iterate.

#31 Improve your search engine optimization (SEO) with Treejack

Yes, a good IA improves your SEO. Search engines want to know how your users navigate throughout your site. Make sure people can easily find what they’re looking for, and you’ll start to see improvement in your search engine ranking.

#32 Test your mobile information architecture

As more and more people are using their smartphones for apps and to browse sites, you need to ensure its design gives your users a great experience. Test the IA of your mobile site to ensure people aren’t getting lost in the mobile version of your site. If you haven’t got a mobile-friendly design yet, now’s the time to start designing it!

#33 Run an Easter egg hunt using correct areas in Chalkmark

Liven up the workday by creating a fun Easter egg hunt in Chalkmark. Simply upload a photo (like those really hard “spot the X” photos), set the correct area of your target, then send out your study with participant identifiers enabled. You can also send these out as competitions and have closing rules based on time, number of participants, or both.

#34 Keystroke level modeling

When interface efficiency is important you'll want to measure how much a new design can improve task times. You can actually estimate time saved (or lost) using some well-tested approaches that are based on average human performance for typical computer-based operations like clicking, pointing and typing. Read more about measuring task times without users.

#35 Feature prioritization — get some help for your roadmap

Find out what people think are the most important next steps for your team. Set up a card sort and ask people to categorize items and rank them in descending order of importance or impact on their work. This can also help you gauge their thoughts on potential new features for your site, and for bonus points compare team responses with customer responses.

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#36 Tame your blog

Get the tags and categories in your blog under control to make life easier for your readers. Set up a card sort and use all your tags and categories as card labels. Either use your existing ones or test a fresh set of new tags and categories.

#37 Test your home button

Would an icon or text link work better for navigating to your home page? Before you go ahead and make changes to your site, you can find out by setting up a first-click testing test.

#38 Validate the designs in your head

As designers, you’ve probably got umpteen designs floating around in your head at any one time. But which of these are really worth pursuing? Figure this out by using The Optimal Workshop Suite to test out wireframes of new designs before putting any more work into them.

#39 ‘Buy now’ button shopping cart visibility

If you’re running an e-commerce site, ease of use and a great user experience are absolutely crucial. To see if your shopping cart and checkout processes are as good as they can be, run a first click test.

#40 IA periodic health checks

Raise the visibility of good IA by running periodic IA health checks using Treejack and reporting the results. Management loves metrics and catching any issues early is good too!

#41 Focus groups with Reframer

Thinking of launching a new product, app or website, or seeking opinions on an existing one? Focus groups can provide you with a lot of candid information that may help get your project off the ground. They’re also dangerous because they’re susceptible to groupthink, design by committee, and tunnel vision. Use with caution, but if you do then use with Reframer! Compare notes and find patterns across sessions. Pay attention to emotional triggers.

#42 Gather opinions with Questions

Whether you want the opinions of your users or from members of your team, you can set up a quick and simple survey using Questions. It’s super useful for getting opinions on new ideas (consider it almost like a mini-focus group), or even for brainstorming with teammates.

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#43 Design a style guide with card sorting

Style guides (for design and content) can take a lot of time and effort to create, especially when you need to get the guide proofed by various people in your company. To speed this up, simply create a card sort to find out what your guide should consist of. Find out the specifics in this article.

#44 Improve your company's CRM system

As your company grows, oftentimes your CRM can become riddled with outdated information and turn into a giant mess, especially if you deal with a lot of customers every day. To help clear this up, you can use card sorting and tree testing to solve navigational issues and get rid of redundant features. Learn more.

#45 Sort your life out

Let your creativity run wild, get your team or family involved in organizing or prioritizing the things that matter. And the possibilities really are endless. Organize a long list of DIY projects, or ask the broader team how the functional pods should be re-organized. It’s up to you. How can card sorting help you in your work and daily life?

#46 Create an online diary study

Whether it’s a product, app or website, finding out the long-term behavior and thoughts of your users is important. That’s where diary studies come in. For those new to this concept, diary studies are a longitudinal research method, aimed at collecting insights about a participant’s needs and behaviors. Participants note down activities as they’re using a particular product, app, or website. Add your participants into a Reframer project and allow them create their diary study with ease.

#47 Source-specific data with an online survey

Online survey tools can complement your existing research by sourcing specific information from your participants. For example, if you need to find out more about how your participants use social media, which sites they use, and on which devices, you can do it all through a simple survey questionnaire. Additionally, if you need to identify usage patterns, device preferences or get information on what other products/websites your users are aware of/are using, a questionnaire is the ticket.

#48 Guerrilla testing with Chalkmark

For really quick first-click testing, take Chalkmark on a tablet, mobile device or laptop to a local coffee shop. Ask people standing in line if they’d like to take part in your super quick test in exchange for a cup of joe. Easy!

#50 Ask post-task questions for Treejack and Chalkmark

You can now set specific task-related questions for both Treejack and Chalkmark. This is a great way to dive deeper into the mushy minds of your participants. Check out how to use this new(ish) feature here!

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#51 Start testing paper prototypes

Paper prototypes are great, but what happens when your users are scattered around the globe, and you can’t invite them to an in-person test? By scanning (or taking a photo) of your paper prototypes, you can use Chalkmark to test them with your users quickly and easily. Read more about our approach here.

#52 Take better notes for sensemaking

Qualitative research involves a lot of note-taking. So naturally, to be better at this method, improving how you take notes is important. Reframer is designed to make note-taking easy but it can still be an art. Learn more. Like most things, read a little, and then it’s all about practice.

#53 Make sure you get the user's first-click right

We’ve found that people who get the first click correct are almost three times as likely to complete a task successfully. Get your first clicks right in Treejack and Chalkmark and you’ll start seeing your customers smile.

#54 Run a cat survey. Yep, cats!

We’ve gained some insight into how people intuitively group cats, and so can you (unless you’re a dog person). Honestly, doing something silly can be a useful way to introduce your team to a new method on a Friday afternoon. Remember to distribute the results!

#55 Destroy evil attractors in your tree

Evil attractors are those labels in your IA that attract unjustified clicks across tasks. This usually means the chosen label is ambiguous, or possibly a catch-all phrase like ‘Resources’. Read how to quickly identify evil attractors in the Destinations table of  tree test results  and how to fix them.

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#56 Affinity map using OptimalSort

We all love our Post-its and sticking things on walls. But sometimes you need something quicker and accessible for people in remote areas. Try out using OptimalSort for a distributed approach to making sense of all the notes. Plus, you can now easily import any Reframer session when creating cards in OptimalSort. Easy.

#57 Preference test with Chalkmark

Whether you’re coming up with a new logo design, headline, featured image, or anything, you can preference test it with Chalkmark. Create an image that shows the two designs side by side and upload it to Chalkmark. From there, you can ask people to click whichever one they prefer!

#58 Add moderated card sort results to your OptimalSort

An excellent way of gathering valuable qualitative insights alongside the results of your remote card sorts is to run a moderated version of the sorts with a smaller group of participants. When you can observe and interact your participants as they complete the sort, you’ll be able to ask questions and learn more about their mental models and the reasons why they have categorized things in a particular way. Learn more.

#59 Test search box variations with Chalkmark

Case study by Viget: “One of the most heavily used features of the website is its keyword search, so we wanted to make absolutely certain that our redesigned search box didn’t make search harder for users to find and use.”

#60 Run an image card sort to organize retail products into groups

You can add images to each card in OptimalSort. This allows you understand how your participants may organize and label particular items. Very useful if you want to organize some retail products and want to find out how other people would organize them given a visual including shape, color, and other potential context.

#61 Test your customers' perceptions of different logo and brand image designs

Understand how customers perceive your brand by creating a closed card sort. Come up with a list of categories, and ask participants to sort images such as logos, and branded images.

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#62 Run an open image card sort to classify images into groups based on the emotions they elicit

Are these pictures exhilarating, or terrifying? Are they humoros, or offensive? Relaxing, or boring? Productive, or frantic? Happy memories, or a deep sigh?

#63 Run an image card sort to organize your library

Whether it’s a physical library of books, or a digital drive full of ebooks, you can run a card sort to help organize them in a way that makes sense. Will it be by genre, author name, color or topic? Send out the study to your coworkers to get their input! You can also do this at home for your own personal library, and you can include music/CDs/vinyl records and movies!

#64 HR exercises to determine the motivations of your team

It’s simple to ask your team about their thoughts, feelings, and motivations with a Questions survey. You can choose to leave participant identifiers blank (so responses are anonymous), or you can ask for a name/email address. As a bonus, you can set up a calendar reminder to send out a new survey in the next quarter. Duplicate the survey and send it out again!

#65 Designing physical environments

If your company has a physical environment in which your customers visit, you can research new structures using a mixture of tools in The Optimal Workshop Suite. This especially comes in handy if your customers require certain information within the physical environment in order to make decisions. For example, picture a retail store. Are all the signs clear and communicate the right information? Are people overwhelmed by the physical environment?

#66 Use Treejack to refine an interactive phone menu system

Similar to how you’d design an IA, you can create a tree test to design an automated phone system. Whether you’re designing from the ground up, or improving your existing system, you will be able to find out if people are getting lost. Read the case study.

#67  Have your research team categorize and prioritize all these ideas

Before you dig deeper into more of these ideas, ask the rest of the team to help you decide which one to focus on. Let’s not get in the way of your work. Start your quick wins and log into your account. Here’s a spreadsheet of this list to upload to OptimalSort.

Aaaaaaaaaaand that’s a wrap! *Takes out gym towel and wipes sweaty face.*

Got any more suggestions to add to this list? We’d love to hear them in our comments section — we might even add them into this list.  

Alan O'Neill
  • Alan O'Neill
  • Alan is Optimal Workshop's marketing manager and digital lightbulb. He's Irish, loves surfing, and has a weird fascination with Red Pandas. Find him on @optimalworkshop or @optimalAlan

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