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Product and Topic Expert
Product and Topic Expert
Have you ever wondered how to structure and organize information in your product documentation in an intuitive way? Have you thought about how your content organization impacts customer experience and helps build trust with the information consumer?

If you are a technical writer or you simply care about the way you deliver user assistance to your customers, or want to improve how customers experience product information, this blog post is for you. If you're looking for a way to improve how customers experience product information, this blog post is for you. As a user assistance developer of SAP, I will share with you experiences, stories, and best practices around information architecture for delivering high quality product documentation.

Let’s set the context right. You visit websites every day. Did you come across one that you found difficult to navigate or to find the information you were looking for?

Source: SAP Image Library (Copyright: SAP SE)

Redesigning SAP Help Portal

Even our old documentation website was full of such examples. We had scattered information with little consistency in writing and not very friendly in helping customers find the information they needed. We realized this. That’s why a step was taken to restructure our website, which is one of the largest documentation bases in the world.

You can see the result by visiting our present website - SAP Help Portal.

How did our team come up with the current information architecture? To organize information and help our users find what they're looking for, we needed to first learn what our customers know, what they think they know, and how they prioritize information. If you have a landing page for your customers, the first important objective of information architecture is to structure and organize the information to help customers navigate around easily and intuitively.

Take a look at any of the landing pages (or product documentation pages as we call them) of our SAP products on SAP Help Portal where we deliver documentation.

We have structured and organized information with the help of categories such as Discover, What’s New, Implement, Integrate, Use, and Develop. Under each of these categories, we have further drilled down to other sub-categories that group the documentation. The number of categories was determined by what makes it easiest for customers to discover and access information.

Here's how an SAP product page looks like now:

An SAP Product Page

Our decision was not steered by a preordained decision that we need to have only a certain number of categories. The question for us was and to you is: “Will your customers find the content they want by navigating their way around your product documentation landing page?” To help you answer correctly without any bias or pressure from either your manager, team, or any other subjective factors, there exists a very useful user experience (UX) research technique called Card Sorting.

Source: SAP Image Library (Copyright SAP SE)

User Research with Card Sorting

Card sorting allows you to observe your users’ behavior and find out how they expect to see information organized on your page. In a card sorting workshop, participants cluster information that is written on cards. They then organize the clusters into categories in a way that makes sense to them alone. At the end of the workshop, if you find that many users organized the cards in a similar way, it'll help you decide on applying the same organization to your content.

However, if they didn't organize the cards that way, you get to see different organizational patterns. This would mean that you may need a different structure to meet the expectations of your users. Card sorting allows you to eliminate subjective factors. Sometimes we just believe that we have organized content in an intuitive way, but with this research you can validate your ideas and be sure whether it is in fact true.

To get started, SAP offers a free set of 14 user research method cards for download, including card sorting

There are different types of card sorting, such as open and closed.

  • In open card sorting, you give participants content cards that represent your product documentation deliverables. You ask them to cluster these cards in any way they feel appropriate. Ask them questions such as “What do you expect to find under this deliverable title?”. Ask them to label each of the clusters (categories) that they have organized in a way that best describes that cluster. This method can allow for new terms to make their way into your project, and expand your team’s understanding of the users and their relationship to the concepts. You commonly use open card sorting for building information architectures and terminologies from scratch.

  • In closed card sorting, you give participants the content cards as well as pre-defined category cards and ask them to place the content cards in the given categories. This method is more likely to result in clear patterns, and give an indication of which concepts relate best to which category. You normally use closed card sorting when adding new content to an existing site or gaining a second round of insights after an open card sort. This is also a good way to confirm that your information architecture is intuitive for users.

Advantages of Card Sorting

There are many advantages to card sorting, the first being that it's simple, inexpensive, and efficient to run such a workshop. Also, you can conduct it remotely using tools such as Mural or Optimal Workshop. You can perform card sorting in a short amount of time and receive results immediately. It also provides a good insight about your users and how they would expect the information to be organized.

To make card sorting even more impactful, take your users' tasks and goals into account - you can then end up with a structure that is usable and thus help you create good information architecture for your product documentation. Feel free to try it out yourself or share this blog with a friend who might benefit from it.