Plan your study

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Before you get started on building out your tree test, It’s a good idea to set up your study objectives. The clearer you are about your reasons and goals for the study, the more relevant and effective your results will be.

Establish what you want to test and improve

Be specific about the information architecture you want to test. 

Do you want to test and improve a whole website, or just parts of it? Do you have one structure to test, or four variations to compare? Do you want to test your whole website in one go, or create a separate test for each part? Are you working on a complete overhaul, or just tweaking the information in one category?

Be clear and specific about exactly what you want to uncover with tree testing.

Establish who you’re improving your IA for, and why

Ultimately, it’s your users who will benefit from all the work you’ve put into testing your IA. So it’s crucial you establish who your intended users are before you get started. You’ll also find it easier to recruit suitable participants if you have a specific audience in mind before you start.

Perhaps you have access to a collection of customer personas, or data on the exact demographics of the people who visit your website or use your product. You might have a vague idea of who you’re designing for, and a few questions as well. The more you can find out before you build your tree test, the better.

As well as knowing your audience, knowing why you’re improving your website or product will give you confidence in building out a successful study. You’ll get answers to your ‘why’ from things like analytics, repeated support queries, customer support tickets, customer studies, user interviews, stakeholder feedback, client specifications, and so on. Think of the ‘why’ as your evidence — your justification for why tree testing is necessary.

Incorporate tree testing into your project plan

Think about when tree testing would be the most useful for you as part of the wider design project you’re working on. Running tree tests at critical stages of your project will give you a whole series of results visualizations and benchmarked data to compare, use to make informed design decisions, and present as progress and return-on-investment reports to stakeholders.

If you’re improving a website that already exists, running a tree test to start with will give you insight into what works and what needs work. Furthermore, starting with a tree test will also give you a clear, quantifiable benchmark for you to improve on in your iterations. If you test your first tree with eight tasks, and then test your revised tree with the same eight tasks, you’ll be able to pinpoint exactly if or how your changes have improved the findability of your information.

If you’re creating a new design, run an open card sort first to generate ideas for categorizing your content and labeling these categories. Use the results of the card sort and your site requirements to build out a draft information architecture. Then run a tree test to see how it performs based on common user tasks.

If you have more than one potential design, test them all with tree testing instead of putting all your effort into trying to perfect just one. We always recommend testing more than one version of your tree when starting out; you’ll get ideas and inspiration from each tree that you test that can help you craft the ‘best of all’ trees, removing or refining the labels and groupings that might confuse people.