Customer Story: Cumbria District Council
Tree testing is a quick, easy and cost-effective way of validating any assumptions about your information architecture or terminology.
An informed community
Keeping residents in the know via their website is an important part of serving the local community for the Cumbria District Council. It covers everything from community events and essential services, through to legal regulations and roading updates. Top of mind for the Council is ensuring the information on their website is accessible, understandable and findable for users – something that is often easier said than done.
Finding the route of the problem
When design duo Ben Hills-Jones (Content Designer) and Kayo Hayashi (User Researcher) reviewed the ‘Highways’ section of the Cumbria District Council website as part of ongoing improvements to make it user-friendly, they took the guesswork out through user research. At the heart of their customer-first approach was Treejack, Optimal Workshop’s online tree testing tool.
‘We decided to use this platform for tree testing as it provides a comprehensive breakdown on user pathways, but also useful visualizations on overall performance’.
Tree testing measures things like:
- Whether users can complete a task (success or fail)
- How long it takes them to complete a task
- How easy it is to find what they’re looking for (direct or indirect success)
The performance of these metrics can provide insight into which labels or parts of the information architecture users are struggling with.
Road testing the solution with Treejack
The tree testing was conducted online using Treejack with 288 residents in Cumbria. The new streets, roads and pavements structure was mapped out, using the new proposed headings. People were asked a number of questions, based on predetermined user stories.
‘Basing the questions on user stories allowed us to make sure that what we are asking met the needs of various groups of people that use the site’.
The research surfaced some useful and actionable insights. 56% of respondents found the right answers and 91% of answers were chosen without backtracking.
‘A success score of 80% or more is considered a good score for a task. Therefore, we were keen to locate the pain points within the proposed IA and explore more ways to improve the findability of relevant content’.
Treejack’s pie chart visualization revealed a lot about the participants’ actions for each task.
‘The results showed us the pathways that each person took. We could start to see where and potentially why users were taking the wrong turn. We discovered some people expected to find out about gritting on roads by looking at weather cameras as opposed to looking at a map that showed this information.’
Changes made post-testing
Based on the findings in the tree test, a variety of further solutions were methodically generated by Ben and Kayo for each of the user journeys. These solutions included a number of changes, including:
- Adding a prominent call-to-action in the ‘Road maintenance’ section, pointing people to the weather cameras
- Adding a call-to-action button in the winter months in the ‘Road maintenance’ section, pointing to gritting
- Linking up the weather cameras map with the gritting map, as some people thought you might find out about gritting by looking at weather cameras
- Adding a prominent call-to-action on the main landing page, pointing to ‘How to report a problem’, as this is a key task
- Adding a link to ‘Electric vehicles’ from ‘Streets permits and licenses’, as many people thought you needed a license to install a charge point
Validating your terminology to keep users on the right track
As well as validating structures, tree testing is also useful in validating the choice of words used to describe sections and pages.
Research showed confusion and inconsistencies on some of the labels used across the highways section. Ben and Kayo labelled the new IA with the new terms to see if people made sense of the labels and understood where they were being asked to click.
By using these new terms in the tree test, the results showed there was no ambiguity in where to click. They also further validated the new terms in a survey with the same people who conducted the tree test.
The benefits of tree testing
Tree testing can be a quick, easy and cost-effective way of validating any assumptions you may have about information architecture or terminology.
The results also act as a source of truth when validating any changes with stakeholders who may have differing opinions. By testing with real people who use the site, you are making sure the focus of the site is truly around the user. Any discrepancies between where content sits and how it is labelled can be resolved by asking the users and making amends accordingly.
Changes based on insights, not guesswork
Thanks to the results of their Treejack study, UX Designers Ben and Kayo were able to confidently make changes to the way content was structured, to better reflect the way users actually visualized and organized information.
‘Tree testing helped us locate the pain points within our IA and explore ways to improve the findability of relevant content. It’s also useful for settling different opinions among stakeholders. By asking real people who use the site, you are making sure the focus of the site is truly around the user. Any discrepancies between where content sits and how it is named can then be resolved by asking the users and making amends accordingly.’