I <3 NY

Dealing with ambiguity — Information Architecture

Restructuring the information architecture for a state tourism website to make it easier for users to create itineraries for quick, weekend getaways.

Expertise

Information Architect

Platforms

Figma

Deliverables

Site Maps, Card Sorting, User Flows

Project overview

For my third project, I was hired by the New York Department of Economic Development to analyze the structure of the iloveny.com desktop website and evaluate the website’s adherence to UX best practices. This website is the New York State Division of Tourism’s website to encourage and promote tourism throughout the state.

Goal

My goal was to enhance user experience of the iloveny.com desktop website through research methods including: heuristic evaluation, as well as, open and closed card sorting.

Tools and Methods

For this project I utilized the following tools:

  • The Abby Method of Heuristic Evaluation
  • Open & Closed Card Sorting
  • Site Mapping
  • User Flow
A snapshot of the user persona that drove my design process for this Information Architecture project.

Persona

As part of this project, I received a persona for the website that I used to evaluate the structure and usability of the current iloveny.com website. I’d like to introduce you to Sam. Sam is in their mid-30s, works in Manhattan, and lives in Brooklyn. Sam has lived in New York for several years, and likes to get away on the weekends. Sam likes to spend time outdoors and visit museums. In Sam’s own words:

“I’ve been in New York City awhile and really want to see more of the state, but I have to be back for work on Monday.”

How might we …

With this in mind, I approached my structural analysis of the current iloveny.com website considering how might we help Sam find a quick, and memorable weekend getaway that aligns with their interests?

Execution

Process

Heuristic Evaluation

To begin my analysis, I began by doing a heuristic evaluation of the current iloveny.com website.

What is a Heuristic Evaluation, you might ask ? When I looked up the meaning and etymology of word, I was interested to discover that heuristic literally means — “serving to discover or find out.”

heuristic (adj.)

“serving to discover or find out,” 1821, irregular formation from Greek heuriskein “to find; find out, discover; devise, invent; get, gain, procure” (from PIE *were- (2) “to find;” cognate with Old Irish fuar “I have found”) + -istic. As a noun, from 1860. Greek had heuretikos “inventive,” also heurema “an invention, a discovery; that which is found unexpectedly.”

I then set out, armed with the Abby Method of Heuristic Evaluation, to see what I could discover about the current iloveny.com website.

I ran a heuristic evaluation of 4 pages on the website, based off of what Sam might do when looking for ideas for weekend trips. Here’s what I discovered:

The Heuristic Evaluation I did of the I Love NY homepage

Based off of the evaluation I ran, I noted several areas of opportunity on the current iloveny.com website. With the heuristics done, I was ready to move on to the next step in my project, which was evaluating the current sitemap of the website.

Visual Sitemap Creation

To create the visual sitemap for this project, I used Adobe InDesign, because I am very familiar and comfortable with the program. In the project brief I received, I was tasked with creating a sitemap for the primary, secondary, and utility navigation of the current iloveny.com website.

As the sitemap suggests, the secondary navigation on the current iloveny.com website is vast, and potentially repetitive in some instances.

The current sitemap for the I Love NY Website that I proposed a redesign for.

Now that I was able to visually understand how the current iloveny.com website was structured, I moved forward with using the method of card sorting to evaluate the current structure of the secondary navigation.

A participant doing an open card sort as part of this process

Open Card Sorting

I began card sorting by creating about 52 index cards with the titles of the secondary navigation pages for the current iloveny.com website. Then, after some very proactive scouting, I found enough participants willing to group the stack of 52 cards into as many groups as they wanted and label them.

The first two open card sorts I held took between 30 to 40 minutes, which had me worried that this task was either too difficult or my participants were overthinking the groupings, too much.

Because of the short timeline and parameters set out for this project, I did 5 open card sorts. From there, I saw themes and categories emerging that I would then use as the groupings for my closed card sort.

Generally, participants created between 7–10 categories or groupings for the cards. Of the groupings created, the following, main categories emerged:

  • About
  • Trip Planning
  • Regions of New York
  • Accommodations
  • Activities
  • Tours
  • Events

Another thing to note is that 5/5 participants who participated in the open card sort did not know what to do with the card: “Transportation.” They generally paused when they came to this card, and 3 out of 5 participants put transportation as an outlier.

Closed Card Sorting

Based off of my findings from the open card sort, I proceeded to do a closed card sort using the categories I discovered through my analysis of the Open Card Sort Data.

For the closed card sort I did 2 in person card sorts, and 4 remote card sorts using the online platform — Usabilitest. The closed card sorting went much more quickly than open card sorting.

For example, when it came to the closed card sort, both of my in person card sorters had issue with a few things that were good points:

  • Camping is an activity, Camp Sites are an Accommodation
  • Tours are a type of activity; conversely, any activity could be a tour, so they found that confusing
  • Shopping is an activity, shopping centers is a place to go

Therefore, based on the information I gleaned from the Closed Card Sort, I moved forward with creating a revised site map based on the data.

Visual Sitemap — Revised

Overall, I was not pleased with the revised sitemap I created based on the user data and analysis that I gleaned from the card sorting. Although the brief for the project was to only analyze the current structure of the site and evaluate the site based on Best UX Practices, I still felt like there is so much more to do to make the site more useful for Sam, the person developed for this project.

User Flow

One last deliverable required for this project was to create a potential user flow for Sam using this website.

I chose to create a simple user flow of what it would look like for Sam to find an activity that they wanted to do and add it to their trip planner.

Results

Outcomes & Lessons Learned

Given the ambiguity in Information Architecture, I still wonder how I could have better served Sam and proposed a better update to the I ❤ NY website.

Reflecting on Sam’s needs — to find a quick weekend trip that is memorable, and suits their needs and interests of exploring nature and museums, I couldn’t help but think the following:

  • The parameters of this project need to be expanded
  • As a next step I would evaluate the overall usability of the desktop and mobile site more in depth, as well as the I ❤ NY mobile app
  • Determine through user interviews and further analysis if it’s useful to have a separate app, or rather consider taking the best of the website and mobile application and creating one, cohesive site that meets Sam’s needs
  • I want to explore the option of making a quick search feature that is a utility navigation feature, potentially, where Sam could input their needs/requirements for their trip, e.g. within 3 hrs driving from NYC, Friday — Sunday, must have a museum and hiking within close distance, e.g.

As an avid weekend traveller around New York State, I would love to continue to further explore how we might help Sam find a quick, and memorable weekend getaway that aligns with their interests?