Card sorting provides really valuable insights that support intranet planning. But you’ve got to know what to do with your results. There are three types of findings that support our decision-making:

  1. Patterns in how participants grouped the items (prior post for ALI)
  2. Similarities in how participants labeled their categories
  3. Differences between demographic groups

I’ve talked about the first one, so let’s just focus on the second – category labeling – in this post. If you need more of a primer on what card sorts are, see my prior post above.

First, it’s important to remember that there are two types of card sorting:

  1. Open sorting, where the participant creates his/her own categories and labels those
  2. Closed sorting, where the participant uses already established and labeled categories

The results of the latter either confirm or reject findings from the former. For example, if most users used the label “Employee Resources” for a category that includes items such as benefits and compensation in the open sort, you’d expect them to be comfortable with that label in the closed sort. If they don’t use that category effectively in the closed sort, you’ve got a labeling problem.

Words we use to label navigational categories are important cues for users. For example:

  • Department names prompt confusion when used to label groups of topics and tasks for users outside those departments. Most average employees don’t understand what different departments actually do and therefore do not know which items to associate with an individual department. Using department names as primary navigation assumes such knowledge, which is why it doesn’t work effectively. Try to use labels that unassociated with a department name.
  • Vague, non-descript labels – such as Other, Stuff, or Resources all by itself– are either ignored or prompt inefficiency. Use labels that are descriptive and set an expectation for the user (tell them where they’ll be going).
  • Labels mean one thing in one country and something different in another. In the US, HR might want a label such as “New Hires.” But outside the US – Europe for example – they use the term “New Starter.” If your intranet is global you must select labels that reach across geographic and cultural boundaries.
  • Labels that use specific industry terminology are confusing for new employees and sometimes even for long-term employees. Acronyms are particularly difficult as labels as they sometimes have more than one meaning.

If a label doesn’t seem to be working, try some testing that enables your users to select the optimal label from a short list (2-4 options). This ensures you’ve landed on the right label.

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 are an expert in intranets, usability, digital workplace design and implementation, I encourage you to submit a presentation for IABC’s 2016 World Conference in New Orleans. As the chair of the Program Advisory Committee, I cannot submit, but I know there is a lot of talent out there that can! Submit your great presentation today!