How to get the most out of tree testing

3 min read Max Koh

Continuing our journey on the Australian leg of the Optimal Workshop Roadshow, we were joined by Step Two Senior Consultant, Steve Byrne, in Sydney.

Steve shared a number of tips to help you get the most out of tree testing from his years of experience working in the industry.

If you missed the event — don’t fret. Watch Steve’s presentation here or read some of the key takeaways below!


  • If you don’t know your audience and you don’t know what you’re trying to deliver to them then you’re going to get stuck later on. Find out their goals and understand what it is they want.
  • Good design is about timely decisions. Quite often you go into a client or organization and they’re jumping to the solution and jumping to the design piece, and jumping to “what color is it going to be?”. Instead, it should be about making the right decision at the right point in the process.


  • Structure testing (aka tree testing) comes after the definition stage and before you deploy your design.
  • Tree testing is less about testing a structure, and more about testing your understanding of how your audience think.
  • Keep in mind that structure itself is quite abstract, but as you get into the design stages in terms of wireframes and workflows it’s about understanding how are people are actually thinking about this information.
  • Navigation is the visible component of structure. Structure isn’t just about navigation. It’s about many other things as well that need to be taken into account.
  • When you’re interpreting your tree test results you want to know what it is people are looking for.

Structure also:

  • Supports publishing
  • Aids sustainability and governance
  • Informs navigation methods
  • Involves metadata, taxonomies

Tips for tree testing

  • Avoid pattern matching in the tasks
  • Have some easy tasks so you can weed out the people who aren’t taking the test seriously
  • Make each task work hard, but avoid double barrelled tasks
  • Avoid using the question “why” as it can sound accusatory (for example, “why did you do that?”)

Key messages

  • Threads link all stages in the design process
  • Structure is one of the most important
  • Make your decisions at the right stage
  • Do your testing at the right stage
  • Know what you want to get from testing.

Remember: If your tree is good, it will work for most people. If your tree is bad, it will fail for everybody.

Check out our guide to information architecture (IA) to learn more about tree testing and IA in general.

We’re hitting the road — come along for the ride!

If you’d like to hear about what some of your local UX heroes have to say, come along to The Optimal Workshop Roadshow! We’re heading off to the United States and Canada in a couple of weeks and bringing some sweet swag and awesome presentations with us.

Check out the full list of cities, dates and speakers here. See you there!