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User Experience Tools for Beginners

A guide to help you find the right tools for the right situation

tree testing

Tree Testing is a method of testing the performance of the proposed navigation, and thereby the information architecture, of your site. It will determine the findability of topics on your website. It is often used to validate the results of a card sorting project.

How to do Tree Testing

Basics: Show users the navigation only--not a complete user interface--and ask them what menu item they would select to perform a certain task or find specific information.

Tree testing is generally done with individuals instead of groups.

You can do this in a low-tech way, using index cards, or in a high tech way with online software applications.

Step by Step

  1. Display the highest level of your web site hierarchy to a user
  2. Give your user a task to find something on your site
  3. Ask them which menu item they would select
  4. Once they select a menu item, display the elements from the next level in the hierarchy.

Repeat step 4 until they find the item or backtrack.

Collecting and Analyzing Tree Test Data

Data Collection and Analysis

The important pieces of information to record are

  1.  The path the user takes through the hierarchy
  2.  Whether the user was successful in finding what they set out to find.
  3.  Any backracking and the subsequent path
  4.  Any hesitations, indecision, etc.

As for analysis, the general consensus seems to be that sophisticated analysis isn't really necessary.  Just as with usability testing, it will be pretty obvious where your hierarchy is confusing people and steps you might take to fix the problems.

10 Tips for Conducting Successful Tree Testing

Using Tree Testing to Test information Architecture

How to Test an Information Architecture

Tree Testing Tools

Low Tech

Index cards, with the menu titles and subsequent levels of hierarchy written on them and organized into that hierarchy.

High Tech

Google forms  You can use the branching logic in Google Forms to simulate what the more expensive tree testing applications do online.  Take a look at our ACRL 2017 poster to see how we rigged it.


Optimal Sort is a popular choice for tree testing as well as card sorting, and they seem to  have bought up just about all of their competitors.  At $109/month, it isn't cheap.