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Card Sorting with Creative Albuquerque

Chantal Forster | August 4 2011

When a vital local non-profit, Creative Albuquerque, decided to overhaul its website, FosterMilo pitched in by designing usability research that incorporates community perspective.

  • Challenge: How to clearly organize website content when you're a creative non-profit with a variety of programs throughout the community?
  • Process: We utilized a usability analysis technique called "card sorting" to understand how the community views the organization's work.
  • Solution: A focused information architecture and disciplined wireframe that utilizes simple content categories created by  volunteers.

The following case study provides additional details.

Inviting Community Participation

"Whether you're developing the organization, labels, or visual presentation of your website, do some user testing to make sure that you are on the right track."

 - Luke Wroblewski


Due to a wildly successful first year, Creative Albuquerque has already outgrown its website, www.creativeabq.org. In planning for a new web presence, though, an immediate challenge arose -- how to create a site that simplifies the organization's complexity?

FosterMilo Web Architects offered to help by conducting a series of card sorting exercises to guide the navigation and layout. Hardly surprising for an organization devoted to innovation and creativity, Regina Chavez and Julia Mandeville from Creative Albuquerque were immediately enamored of community input on the website's organization.

In July 2011, together with Programs & Development Coordinator Julia Mandeville, we conducted a card sorting usability study to help determine how visitors view the patterns of content on the Creative ABQ site. Twelve volunteers completed the exercise at the beautiful downtown offices of Creative Albuquerque.

What Card Sorting Revealed


Every card sorting study is unique, but the results invariably reveal consistent patterns. Here are 3 category sets representative of the group:

"The insights provided by our card sorting volunteers are invaluable and offer us an intuitive, organic blueprint for our new site.

As a result, Creative Albuquerque's web presence will not only be designed with our users in mind, but defined by their generous input."

- Julia Mandeville, Creative Albuquerque

Set #1

  • Why Creative ABQ?
  • About Creative ABQ?
  • What Creative ABQ Does
  • Communicate
  • Opportunities
  • Events
  • Background

Set #2

  • About
  • Events
  • News
  • Membership
  • Opportunities
  • Reports & Studies

Set #3

  • Who We Are
  • Our Purpose
  • Upcoming Events
  • Join Us
  • News
  • Opportunities

Although not covered here, the way volunteers clustered sub-topics within these categories is equally illustrative and will no doubt guide the way Creative Albuquerque chooses to populate the site with content at deeper levels.

The Resulting Information Architecture

"A large array of options may discourage consumers because it forces an increase in the effort that goes into making a decision."

- Barry Schwartz from "The Paradox of Choice"

One of our reasons for loving the card sorting exercise as a usability technique is the clarity of patterns that typically emerges. For example, though it may be tempting to highlight key events like the annual Bravos Awards by giving them prominence in the top navigation, website visitors see it differently:

  • All events are really just events and should be clustered as sub-topics within an "Events" category. To them, it's that simple.

The information architecture below proposes one possibility of organization information based upon the card-sorting results.

Information Architecture for Creative ABQ

Ideas for Layout

While a site layout should be guided by information architecture (IA) research, it's equally influenced by the desired personality of the site. This means an agreed-upon IA can result in numerous versions of a layout or wireframe.

Here is one possibility for the Creative Albuquerque site, where the top navigation is lean and focused much like that found at www.wkkf.org. Additional elements, such as Events and News, are given prominence in a sitewide right column to reduce cognitive overload in the top navigation.

Wireframe idea for Creative ABQ

"It seems so natural that a site would be built from the user up, but we simply would not have known how to begin the process.

We are so thankful that FosterMilo shared this method and led us in the implementation effort."

- Julia Mandeville, Creative Albuquerque

Watch for a new Creative Albuquerque website, being developed in-house, to be unveiled in the coming months.

To learn how information architecture research can benefit your organization, contact info@fostermilo.com.

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