Cross tabulating card sort data is a pain, but online tools such as Optimal Sort have made it a lot easier. Plus, understanding demographic differences can point to really important design decisions for your intranet. I’ve talked before about what to do with card sort findings on grouping patterns and category labeling, so now let’s focus on differences in demographic groups.

First, gather only those demographics you’ll actually design for, such as level (e.g., manager, executive, individual contributor) and location. Sometimes a client will ask about age, but companies don’t usually provide a different interface based upon age/generation, making this a less useful demographic. Tenure is another one you likely won’t design for, so leave it out.

Second, consider whether or not you want participants to self-report demographics. It’s much easier with today’s online card sorting tools to allow them to simply respond to demographic questions with no validation. If validation is important to you, here is one way to get it done:

  • Require a company email address to participate in the test
  • Cross tabulate findings against a target list that includes demographic markers using email address; this marries results with an individual participant’s demographics
  • Now sort and filter by the demographics

Here are some examples of what we often find when cross tabulating card sort results with demographics:

  • Managers often group management-related items together rather than associating them with their topical categories. For example, they’ll group together Competencies, Vacation Approval and Travel Requests because these are all manager functions. A front-line employee may put Competencies in a career category, Vacation Approval under benefits and Travel Requests in a travel center. This finding points to the need for a space dedicated to the needs of managers.
  • Participants often group policy that specifically relates to their location in a location category. For example, they might put the Singapore office parking policy in a Singapore group rather than with all policies. This finding points to the need to surface content on more than one page or based upon user relevance.
  • Front-line participants often group items they don’t recognize into one large bucket; sometimes they’ll even label it I Don’t Know. Often the labels on those items are the problem – labels that are too complex, vague, or technical. One example is the term Talent Acquisition, which HR people may understand but regular employees do not. Given the opportunity to label it themselves, regular employees may use labels such as Career, Hiring, Jobs, etc.

While Nielsen Norman Group recently advocated against audience-based navigation – and I don’t disagree with them – understanding the differences in how different user groups sort and label your intranet content can help you make better design decisions. So do the data crunch so you know what demographic nuances are breaking your user experience.

Don’t forget to pay attention to other findings in your card sort results. For more information on that, check out these two posts:

  1. Using Card Sort Results: Grouping Patterns (on the ALI Blog)
  2. Using Card Sort Results: Category Labeling

If you are interested in learning more about intranets, their governance and social technology use inside organizations, I’ll be teaching at two upcoming events:

If you’ve got a great story to tell, I encourage you to submit a presentation proposal for IABC’s 2016 World Conference. The deadline is this Wednesday, September 30, so submit today!