1. Word clouds and silver linings

    Posted July 14, 2008 in projects, research  |  No Comments so far

    Recently I carried out some user testing on a late-beta website. At the end of each test session, participants were given a piece of paper listing over 100 adjectives – both positive and negative – and asked to tick the ones most applicable to the website they’d been using.

    As the week of testing came to a close, it was possible to flick through the responses and get a sense of what adjectives were the most popular. However, it was less easy to convey this to the client in summary form.

    Of the 100 options available, just over 30 had been chosen by at least one participant, meaning that rendering the results of the survey as a bar or pie chart would be at best inelegant and at worst unintelligible. And I couldn’t chop the least popular choices just to present a simple overview, as this would skew the data and paint an artificially positive picture of how the participants had responded to the site.

    In the end I drew the results of the survey using a “word cloud” model. If you’ve used, well, the internet in the last couple of years you’ll have seen these (although the term itself may not be so familiar!). Each adjective that had been chosen at least once was displayed in the ‘cloud’, and its text size was determined by how many participants had chosen it. This meant that the most popular options stood out clearly and the less popular options, although less visible, were still legible if the diagram was studied closely.

    The resulting cloud met with a positive reception when presented to the client and helped to provide a quick and effective summary of the test sessions, especially useful for people in senior management who didn’t have time to go through the detailed analysis of the tests.

    Although I used Visio to create the cloud, there are a number of tools online that can be used to quickly generate word clouds of your own. Wordle, at http://www.wordle.com, is the one I’d most recommend.

    I’m not convinced that they’re always useful but you never know when you’ll end up in a situation where a word cloud might come in handy.