Different ways to test information architecture

4 min read Jess Jenkins

We all know that building a robust information architecture (IA) can make or break your product. And getting it right can rely on robust user research. Especially when it comes to creating human-centered, intuitive products that deliver outstanding user experiences.

But what are the best methods to test your information architecture? To make sure that your focus is on building an information architecture that is truly based on what your users need, want, and need.

What is user research?

With all the will in the world, your product (or website or mobile app) may work perfectly and be as intuitive as possible. But, if it is only built on information from your internal organizational perspective, it may not measure up in the eyes of your user. Often, organizations make major design decisions without fully considering their users. User research (UX) backs up decisions with data, helping to make sure that design decisions are strategic decisions. 

Testing your information architecture can also help establish the structure for a better product from the ground up. And ultimately, the performance of your product. User experience research focuses your design on understanding your user expectations, behaviors, needs, and motivations. It is an essential part of creating, building, and maintaining great products. 

Taking the time to understand your users through research can be incredibly rewarding with the insights and data-backed information that can alter your product for the better. But what are the key user research methods for your information architecture? Let’s take a look.

Research methods for information architecture

There is more than one way to test your IA. And testing with one method is good, but with more than one is even better. And, of course, the more often you test, especially when there are major additions or changes, you can tweak and update your IA to improve and delight your user’s experience.

Card Sorting

Card sorting is a user research method that allows you to discover how users understand and categorize information. It’s particularly useful when you are starting the planning process of your information architecture or at any stage you notice issues or are making changes. Putting the power into your users’ hands and asking how they would intuitively sort the information. In a card sort, participants sort cards containing different items into labeled groups. You can use the results of a card sort to figure out how to group and label the information in a way that makes the most sense to your audience. 

There are a number of techniques and methods that can be applied to a card sort. Take a look here if you’d like to know more.

Card sorting has many applications. It’s as useful for figuring out how content should be grouped on a website or in an app as it is for figuring out how to arrange the items in a retail store.You can also run a card sort in person, using physical cards, or remotely with online tools such as OptimalSort.

Tree Testing

Taking a look at your information architecture from the other side can also be valuable. Tree testing is a usability method for evaluating the findability of topics on a product. Testing is done on a simplified text version of your site structure without the influence of navigation aids and visual design.

Tree testing tells you how easily people can find information on your product and exactly where people get lost. Your users rely on your information architecture – how you label and organize your content – to get things done.

Tree testing can answer questions like:

  • Do my labels make sense to people?
  • Is my content grouped logically to people?
  • Can people find the information they want easily and quickly? If not, what’s stopping them?

Treejack is our tree testing tool and is designed to make it easy to test your information architecture. Running a tree test isn’t actually that difficult, especially if you’re using the right tool. You’ll  learn how to set useful objectives, how to build your tree, write your tasks, recruit participants, and measure results.

Combining information architecture research methods

If you are wanting a fully rounded view of your information architecture, it can be useful to combine your research methods.

Tree testing and card sorting, along with usability testing, can give you insights into your users and audience. How do they think? How do they find their way through your product? And how do they want to see things labeled, organized, and sorted? 

If you want to get fully into the comparison of tree testing and card sorting, take a look at our article here, which compares the options and explains which is best and when.