Reviewed February 2015
Erin Dorris Cassidy, Associate Professor / Web Services Librarian
Sam Houston State University

optimalsort 1OptimalSort is a tool for conducting card-sorting tests online. Card sorting is a form of usability testing in which end users demonstrate how they would group and label content on a website—in other words, what categories should appear in a menu and what options should be available within each category. OptimalSort will help anyone seeking a simple way to collect data that would inform a redesign of their website’s organizational structure.

OptimalSort is one of three tools from Optimal Workshop for outlining and testing website architecture; TreeJack tests the findability of topics in a website without the distraction of visual design, while ChalkMark tests first impressions of a design The Optimal suite is web-based and requires a user account but no downloads or installations.

OptimalSort is available in both free and paid plans. The primary limitation of the free plan is scalability: one may create an unlimited number of surveys, but each survey is limited to a maximum of thirty cards and ten participants. This is likely sufficient for most website menus, though some users may wish to run multiple studies in order to test a larger number of users. In contrast, paid plans allow for unlimited surveys, cards, and users. Some additional features—such as the ability to password-protect an individual survey, or customize survey branding—are available only on the paid plan. The free plan still allows access to any surveys and data created on a paid plan, so no content is lost by switching back and forth between free and paid plans.

Monthly, annual, and pay-by-the-survey pricing options are available. Annual subscriptions to the entire Optimal suite are nearly half the price of subscribing to the three tools separately. Enterprise plans are available, and qualifying non-profits may receive annual 50% discounts. Although some available programs such as Usabilitest may be cheaper, OptimalSort’s price is generally competitive in the market, and this product shines with its user-friendliness and robustness.

Working with OptimalSort is simple and intuitive. The interface is clean and easy to navigate. Language is simplified to assist the user who is new to usability testing, and helpful explanations guide the user through each step. Text to introduce and explain the test to participants is fully customizable, allowing flexibility for whatever directions need to be given in a specific testing scenario.

optimalsort 2Cards (and categories, if they are predetermined for a test) may be created individually or pasted in bulk from a spreadsheet. Card content may include text, images, or both, enhancing flexibility of test design. Participants simply drag and drop cards into groups, similar to playing digital Solitaire. Survey questions, such as to gather demographics, may be included before or after the card-sorting test. Participants may be anonymous or identified by an email address or other identifier.

Robust data analysis features allow results to be viewed in aggregate or for selected participants only—participants may be selected manually or filtered according to pre- or post-survey questionnaires. This capability surpasses that of competitive tools like ConceptCodify. Result sets such as a list of user-created categories, dendrograms illustrating data clusters, and a similarity matrix showing what percentage of participants agreed with any given pairing of cards can be viewed, shared, or downloaded in spreadsheet format. Interpreting results may take some time for novice usability testers; however, once again, the interface’s simple explanations are invaluable. For instance, a novice may be unsure what a score in the Skeptical Dendrogram conveys, but OptimalSort concisely explains: “The scores tells you ‘X% of participants agree with this grouping.’”

OptimalSort is a useful tool for rethinking any navigation menu or online organizational structure, whether for a traditional website or sites built with products like WordPress and LibGuides.

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