Online sorter boosts usability

The process reduces the time needed to run a card-sort from weeks to hours

Wellington-based internet consulting company Optimal Usability has launched an online card-sorting system, which it originally developed for in-house use.

The process reduces the time needed to run a card-sort from weeks to hours.

Card-sorting used to be a manual technique, where cards on separate topics were ranked, then combined under section headings. For example, a tourism company might rank different aspects of tourism, then collate them in sections.

Optimal Usability director Sam Ng says the company already has clients in the US and UK. “We have just been contracted by a major American software company to customise our software for their needs,” he says.

Card-sorting is used widely by interaction designers and information architects for design projects, such as the development of websites and intranets. Its main benefit is to provide insight into how users organise and label information.

Ng says Optimal Usability built the tool after becoming frustrated with traditional card- and paper-card sorting.

“We put a huge effort into making the OptimalSort user interface a good experience, so participants are more likely to complete the exercise,” he says. “We have also taken a different approach to analysis, to enable the designer to make the most of the results.”

The company has been using — and refining — OptimalSort since 2004, for client projects. International information architecture expert Donna Maurer was an adviser on the project and Rod Drury, of Wellington company Xero, and other web entrepreneurs encouraged the directors to adopt the software as a service (SaaS) model, Ng says.

The beta release in mid-June was timed to coincide with the company taking part in a major US usability conference.

“That generated a lot of interest and we have been blown away by the response from all over the world,” Ng says.

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Tags onlineDevelopment IDsortingoptimal usability

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