Asking Our Users — Card Sorting

Card Sort Example DetailThe redesign process for the Libraries’ new website started with a small group of librarians and one programmer (hereafter called library web team). They began by examining other academic library websites and looking at the statistics for the now old website. This was a good start. However, a key voice was missing from the discussion. Namely the voice of our users – Ohio University faculty, staff, students, Friends of the Libraries, and international, national, and local community patrons and researchers. Through a variety of usability tests, meetings, and feedback the voice of our users were added to the conversation.

The first in a series of usability tests we conducted was card sorting. Users are given a stack of cards with a term or two written on them as well as a few that are blank (so users can write in items they think were left out). They are asked to sort the cards into categories. Now categories can be supplied, or perhaps better, the user can be asked to label or categorize each of their sorted piles. Card sorting is useful to determine how users would organize content and if they understand certain terminology.

From the initial work of the library web team, the main categorizes and the first menu layer of the new website were determined. Cards were created using this terminology for the first layer and graduate and undergraduate students sorted the cards into the main categorizes. We tweaked the categories and terminology and retested. It is interesting to have your assumptions tested. Here are some results that surprised me:

  • We thought “technology” would be a recognizable word for information on computers, printing, scanning, photocopying, and software. No, it really did not resonant with our users; however, “computers and printing” did.
  • Some people, and I confess I am one of them, are not fans of cute names for catalogs. After the card sorting results, I had to stop asking, “Why cannot we say ‘online catalog’ or just ‘catalog’?” Because everyone knows ALICE.
  • In the library world, it is generally held that users do not understand what “databases” means to be a fact. When we tested our students, they associated “databases” with “research.” It seems our users understand that databases are where you search for information. So we kept the word “databases” but as we moved forward with the process and specifically from the feedback received during the spring quarter, we realized we still had a little tweaking to do. It became clear that faculty and students may have different meaning for “research” than what librarians do. During meetings with faculty and graduate students, we asked what term or terms they would use to categorize the many different research tools and databases we offer. Now we have “resources.”

After two rounds of card sorting and small tweaking based upon feedback, we feel pretty confident we have an organizational structure and the terminology that the majority of our users will understand (I wish I could say all of our users; however, I will be realistic). We continue to gather feedback and welcome yours.