Current ACC students take the “Tree Test” at South Austin Campus
What’s a Tree Test?
A tree test defined is “A tree test is like a usability test on the skeleton of your navigation with the design “skin” removed. It allows you to isolate problems in findability in your taxonomy, groups or labels that are not attributable to issues with design distractions, or helpers.” via Jeff Sauro – Measuring Usability
In short a tree test tests how well you have organized content within your site, and how well you have labeled that content.
The card sort phase of the Web Redesign Project was deployed using OptimalSort’s Card Sorting program and we turned to them again for the tree testing part of the project. Using the software, I was able to input the skeleton of our test website into the system and assign several tasks for the testers. We had 9 individual tasks for testers and the tests lasted about 20 min. “Correct” answers are marked within the system. Simple analysis of the test included how quickly users were able to find information and if they selected the correct information at all. More in-depth analysis shows what path down the tree users took and how many times they had to go back up the tree to find the information they felt comfortable with.
After testers were finished with the tree test they we shown the development website and asked to browse around and get a general first impression of it. We asked testers to both explore and consider finding the same type of information they had been tasked with in the tree test. and then fill out a quick paper survey.
I took an online seminar on how best to set up the tree test and actually test the test to make sure it was viable. In our first iteration there were some snags but for the most part I was content with how it read and worked. Since our test site is rather large, setting up the tree was difficult but I finally got it to function. At this point we were ready to deploy the test.
Current ACC students preview the new test website at Eastview Campus
Feed the Tree
I set up a vanity URL that was easy to remember and pointed it at the online tree test.
The team then went to South Austin Campus and Eastview Campus on different days to solicit students to become testers. Tests were performed in classrooms that were equipped with computers. Since the test was web based i did not have to install special software or programs, and the test was completed through a web browser. After these to sessions were completed, we edited the tree to take into account what we learned. We then deployed that tree test at Cypress Creek Campus to validate the changes.
Low Hanging Fruit
We quickly discovered that due to the amount of information we have and the specific tasks that students are asked to perform, finding the information proved difficult even with our new information structure. The task often had a driver word that users latched onto, and then went down those paths.
Example 1: “Find student computer access on campus.”
Testers latched on to the “campus” part of the question and initially started on the “Locations” page, which did not have a section for student computers. If students did make it down “Services for Students” section they selected the “Support Center” page which is also incorrect.
Example 2:” You’ve heard the meningitis requirement might affect you. Find the information and see if it affects you.”
Many students marked the Frequently Asked Questions under the “About ACC” section. I did not have this marked as a correct answer but again what this does showcase is how a user may be thinking about a topic and where they feel information should be located.
Spruce the Branches
We are making adjustments to the tree by analyzing where information is located and what we are labeling content as the test progresses. At a given point we will roll out these changes to the actual website once they have been discussed. Again, we are looking for trends and signifiers that will tell us how and where users expect to find particular sets of information and content.
Why not help us out and take the tree test?
The comments the students left us on the new website questionnaire can be viewed here. Thanks to the testing team for putting this together!
Taking what we have learned from the research phase of the web redesign project, our designers have created the first iteration of what our new template may look like..
Let’s go from top to bottom on this design. Remember, menus and groupings have already been established and the following is the first visual representation of those findings. Click the images to go to the development pages themselves.
Topic Based Content (Graduation Information)
The very top menu bar is our utility bar. This hold links to our most accessed online applications. It contains an audience identifier drop down which can guide users who self select a choice to the appropriate landing page which will hold content that pertains to them. Secondary menu bars that contain the search box and other highly accessed links appear just beneath this.
Visually, the ACC logo is in the upper right which is a common placement and a general best practice. We are still working on how our slogan Start Here. Get there will be incorporated into the design, if at all.
Our main menu links have been incorporated into a type of “mega-menu”. These menus will serve as gateways to our top-tasks and most accessed content while bringing many success geared content types to the top of our information architecture. These menus will be reviewed on a consistent basis so that users have direct access to the required information at any point within the user experience.
Large images that reinforce content will be on many high-level pages. These images will again reinforce to a user the content type and nature while underscoring ACC’s brand and values.
A left hand side main menu seems to be default but is not always the case in many new designs in higher education. The design team has elected (for now) to use the left hand side menu with the main content to the right. Our webpage is being built on a grid system so many new types of content signifiers such as sidebars will be possible without special accommodation. Typography and stylistic elements within the main content area are still in development at this time. All content types such as headings, paragraphs, charts, tables, lists, block-quotes, videos, important notes, and so on will have a distinct style, and will be controlled through the main style sheet. While placement of these elements will have some leeway, look and feel of the content will remain consistent.
Moving past the main content area is a kind of pre-footer. This area will hold links and other functions such as contact forms or knowledge base queries. The “Quicklinks” link section of this area will be incorporated into the menus and homepage components.
For now the footer reflects the very same links that are located within the main menus at the top of the page. This may or may not change based on usability tests. Also located within the footer is “i am acc” sub-brand and links to ACC’s social media presence. These elements are also in review.
Again, this is the first iteration and mock-up, so no style or content placement has been confirmed. These mock-ups do however show the direction of look and feel as the project moves forward.
Almost all web redesign projects that I have kept up with have been rolled out in phases. I have seen very few projects have been a full cut-over without any links,layouts, or content that reference the old website. ACC’s website will follow suit. There will be several phases of content migration with the most noticeable being the homepage and “top-level” content. This is a preliminary schedule that does not have any dates set to it per-say, but will be a guide for addressing content as it gets reviewed and then migrated into where it is supposed to live.
Using the content inventory at
All of the public facing content that is aimed at future students, current students, and the community will move into the Drupal CMS. It will serve as the “top level” of the website.
This content is located on websites under the “External Information” and “Special Purpose (if applicable)” categories on the spreadsheet.
At this point in time we could launch the new website if we wanted to do so.
All of the internal facing content that is aimed at faculty, staff, and administrators will move into the Drupal CMS or Wordpress CMS.
This content is located on websites under the “Internal Admin Info”, “Internal Admin Dept” and “Special Purpose (if applicable)” categories on the spreadsheet.
All Academic Department Sites will either move to the Drupal CMS, Wordpress CMS, or Google Sites. The content team will have to work with these folks and I see this one as the most problematic.
This content is located on websites under the “Academic Dept” and “Instructional” categories on the spreadsheet.
All faculty website content is moved into Google Sites or the instructional content server (if approved).
This content is located on websites under the “Faculty – Listed” categories on the spreadsheet.
Hopefully IDS has been moving instructional websites off to Google Sites the way it has been described in some preliminary meetings that have been held.
At this time we can rename the old www box and give it a viking funeral. (I hope it makes it this far).
ACC System Admins decommissioning hardware