In a nutshell, Information Architecture is about grouping and labeling the information. How to do it? When in trouble, use the card sorting.
Let’s apply it to real life task: sorting music moods for our music project, Fugue.
Right. Preparing our music library, we had to classify the music moods into several categories. I felt like the Thayer Mood Model is a good start.
It looks great, but will our usability testing confirm it? Thayer Mood Classification
Image credits: Michael Nuzzolo, Bhar, 2014.
Questions to Answer
- Will our usability testing confirm this model?
- Do people intuitively classify our music genres into the same categories?
- Will our usability testing improve it?
The list of tags that our music producers brought:
- Calm, etc.
Card Sorting: The Method
We’ll use card sorting. In short, we put each music genre on a separate card. We ask people to sort these cards into the piles in some logical way and name each pile.
Then, after the testing is ready and the participants went away, you sit on the floor late in the night. The goal is to figure out something before the cleaners throw this garbage away in the morning.
The original way of conducting this research involves the actual, physical paper cards. The method is so old that the literature refers to the paper version of this test.
I did it the old paper way, and let me tell you something: it sucks. It requires an extreme amount of manual work even with a few participants. Let’s use the software.
Card sorting software is not the kind of flashy software that goes ICO or receives funding from YCombinator. Beautiful, contemporary design, responsive pages, and fun copy — that’s not something you’ll find here. There are few services, and they look quite old and dusty.
I’ve used Optimal Workshop before. It was ok, but they rose the prices around 10x. And let me put it this way: it didn’t get 10x better.
Some of the alternatives are too ugly to be used by a service for designers like us, so I chose Usabilititest. Right, the name is misspelled. I wonder if they misspelled it when registering a domain, and decided it’s not worth spending another 8 dollars for the right spelled one.
Pros and Cons of Usabilititest
Usabilititest turned to be a good choice.
It has a relatively OK design. In the world of user interfaces, it’s not a beauty like Scarlett Johansen, but neither Woody Allen.
My biggest cons are related to the interpretation of the results. For example, the page doesn’t use the full width of the screen for a multi-column table.
Probably the worst of all, it mishandles the custom group titles. If one user created a group called “Intense” and another one created the group called “Intense,” this software creates two columns instead of one.
We’ve created two card sorting tests:
- Moods of music (Calm, Romantic)
- Usages of music (Internet, TV, etc.)
Creating a test is straightforward. Mostly, you add the cards and call it a day.
The software also suggests defining some groups. It makes sense, taking into account the software does little to join the groups, even equally named ones. I’m not even telling about clustering the groups that are called differently.
In the end, you’ll get a link to the public page. You’re ready to send it to the participants.
We have the wonderful community at Icons8. They saved us on many occasions. We’ve sent a mailing asking for help and received around 500 responses for each of the tests in less than 24 hours.
Another way of recruiting users is Upwork. I used to hire the users there. Just explain the task beforehand and pay the person’s usual hourly rate.
As mentioned above, the reports are not usable. Therefore, let’s:
- Export them to CSV
- Import to Google Spreadsheets
- Group similar columns.
The final step: let us group the moods that scored some significant votes into the categories. Ta-dam!
And the final result is on our website:
Meet Fugue, ladies and gentlemen.