Tree Testing is a usability testing technique, which is used to evaluate how easy is it for users to find items or topics on a website. Also known as reverse card sorting or card based classification technique, Tree Testing allows researchers to show a website menu structure to the participants without the layout or design being complete.
The process is for participants to find items, topics or perform tasks laid down by the researcher by merely navigating the menu structure presented to them. The exercise is usually short and lasts for 20 minutes on an average wherein the user is asked to perform around 15-20 tasks by finding items on the website.
Tree Testing is normally conducted early on in the design process using online tools like Treejack. Tree Testing can be accompanied by card sorting and other research methods to confirm findings.
Tree Testing is a quick, simple and inexpensive way to evaluate your site structure early on in the research process. It gives real insights to understanding where your users will expect to find content on the website. With online software allowing researchers to test remotely, more users can be reached, the data can be analyzed quickly and you can have confidence that your site structure works or needs changing.
The four basic IA elements are organization, labeling, navigation, and search. Tree Testing is more focused on the first two i.e. organization and labeling. Basically, depending on how difficult or easy it was for the participants to find items on the website, it can be determined whether the organization or label of categories is intuitive and easy enough for the participants to understand. That way, the results from tree testing are easier to interpret than card sorting. Here, analysis involves the percentage of people who could complete the tasks quickly, correctly and entirely.
As mentioned above, Tree Testing is performed usually early on in the design phase. However, after the final design as well, Tree Testing allows to shake off the feeling of uncertainty that the design is in fact with what the users need it to be.
Advantages of Tree Testing
Sessions are short and can be performed remotely.
02 Easy recruitment
Recruitment of participants is fairly straightforward.
Testing can be performed remotely so the costs stay low.
04 Data Analysis
Data analysis is pretty simple and results can be acted on quickly.
05 No researcher bias
As the sessions are performed remotely so there is less to no chance of the possibility of a researcher bias.
Disadvantages of Tree Testing
01 Difficult to visualize
As the site structure is in its basic form there are no visual elements that might help users to navigate the site.
02 No further probing
Most Tree Testing is conducted remotely so researchers cannot observe or discuss decisions with users as to why they made those choices.
Think Design recommendation
Tree Testing is a very effective method when we want to capture quantitative data, however small the sample size may be. The very reason why a Tree Test is used in early stages is because you want to understand user responses to your IA and you want to capture enough responses to qualify your proposed design.
Use Tree Testing in cases where there are possible alternatives to your IA and those alternatives could affect the usability of your product. Say, for example, you are working on IA for an e-commerce portal and you are wondering where to stack children' school bags. Possible categories could be School supplies, Stationery, Kids, Back to School, Bags etc. When you come across these alternatives, you would want to run a Tree Test in order to gauge user responses to each category. Based on the user response data you get, you could be in a better position to decide on your category.