OM Sanctuary project: Improving information architecture

In my last blog post, I talked about a project I’m working on to improve the website for the OM Sanctuary, a place that I love to stay when I’m in Asheville, NC.

I tested it with a couple people and they were confused by many of the options on the front page, just as I was when I first visited the website in 2017. One tester remarked that the flow of the site seemed “haphazard.” It was pretty obvious the problems they encountered stemmed from the information architecture.

What exactly is information architecture? Basically, it’s how content is organized and labeled. A small example of this would be deciding which options to put in a dropdown menu on a navigation bar. Keep reading to find out more about the process.

My first step toward improving the information architecture of the OM Sanctuary website was to take inventory of what’s already there. For that, I created a sitemap with an online tool called GlooMaps. (It’s free, it’s easy, I highly recommend it.) My sitemap includes all the options in the main navigation menu, and the options within the dropdown menus:

screen shot 2019-01-23 at 10.58.28 am

So now that I have a clear picture of what already exists, how can I create options and menus that make more sense to users? Card sorting is one way to to test menu options, so I decided to go with that.

Card sorting is just what it sounds like: putting information on cards (paper or digital) and asking someone to sort those cards into categories that make sense to them. In this case, I used Optimal Workshop’s online card sorting tool. It’s free for 10 or fewer responses, and it’s really easy to get started with.

For more about the basics of card sorting, check out this guide from usability.gov: Card Sorting.)

I had someone who was familiar with the OM Sanctuary and its offerings do the card sorting exercise to see what I could find out. I let my participant create categories that made sense to him, and here’s what he came up with:

screen shot 2019-01-23 at 11.45.25 am

As you can see, his top-level menu options were pretty different than the ones on the actual site. Instead of a menu labeled Programs, which he said was vague and confusion, he created the Events & On-Campus Services menu, which one could argue is more straightforward.

Like the other two people I had do user testing, he expected lodging and reservation options to be featured more prominently on the home page than other options like spa services or yoga classes. “It’s a hotel,” he said. “I don’t want to have to search to figure out how to actually stay there.”

As with any sort of research, I’d like to run through this exercise with a couple other people before making any final decisions. While options like Logistics and T&C made sense to this participant, they may be confusing to someone else. The idea behind doing something like card sorting multiple times is that commonalities in responses will start to emerge and I’ll be able work from there.

A few helpful resources for beginner researchers:

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