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It Looks Like Fun, but I Swear It’s Work

A few weeks ago, I walked in our office and saw Anna furiously writing on post-it notes and sticking them on a whiteboard. Clearly, we faced a problem so complex that the only way to solve it was by breaking out visual user experience tools. When tasked with organizing a complex array of information, it’s best to use a visual organization system other than keeping it all inside one's mind. Visual tools improve team collaboration and most recently at HighRock, we used a card mapping activity to architect a particularly tricky website navigation.

Card mapping, also known as card sorting or affinity diagraming, is a research method meant to create a better user experience. This type of research is used to restructure tools like website navigation, restaurant menu categories, and any other type of information architecture that your customers will use. 

There are many variations of card sorting, but here’s a look at the most recent method on a current website project. This organization has many target audiences, each with their own, very specific needs. Some of those needs overlap, though many others are battling to be the most important (“Conflicting priorities” is recipe for “website developer gets a headache”).

During the discovery phase of a website, we prioritize the needs & goals for each audience, because a website displays only a few goals at a time due to a limited about of space on the screen. In this project, however; it seems that we need to be everything to everyone (a recipe for the most confusing website, ever.)

How to replicate our recent card sorting exercise:

  1. Write the title of each piece of content on its own sticky note
  2. Put all of the post-it notes on the wall (we kept ours outside of our whiteboard)
  3. Move notes onto the whiteboard one by one
  4. Group items together as it makes sense
  5. Only put cards on the board if they go into a group. No loners.
  6. Once you have no cards on the outside of the board, you win!

HighRock staff members arranging post it notes on a white board

Don’t worry if everything doesn’t feel perfect yet – card mapping is rarely, if ever, a one and done process. After giving each category a title, we reviewed each post-it note. Did it fit with the others in the same category? Does it make sense where it is? If the answer was no, we moved it back outside the box. We redid this process three or four times until we found our favorite solution, and then debated a naming scheme for our categories. By the end, we felt confident in our primary navigation titles and information architecture.  

Post it notes arranged on a white board

It’s not often necessary, but if the information you’re trying to organize is too complicated for you to easily visualize, breaking out the whiteboard may help your team. Don’t worry if you have to restart the process a few times – in the end, all of the different ways that you’ve thought about and processed your information will lead to a better experience for your users. If you are interested in learning more about different types of card mapping, we got our start by reading this article from the Nielson Norman Group.

Want us to help you organize some part of your user experience in a more organic, intuitive way? We’d love to! Reach out to our office to get started.