Card Sorting


Card sorting is a method used to help design or evaluate the information architecture of a site. In a card sorting session, participants organise topics into categories that make sense to them and they may also help you label these groups. To conduct a card sort, you can use actual cards, pieces of paper, or one of several online card-sorting software tools.

Card sorting will help you understand your users’ expectations and understanding of your topics. It is often most useful once you have done some homework to find out about your users and understand your content. Knowing how your users group information can help you:

  • Build the structure for your website
  • Decide what to put on the homepage
  • Label categories and navigation

The card sorting mechanics are really low-tech and simple. The participants sort items into categories the way it makes sense to them. The items are usually keywords, labels of your products or pages titles. There are two types of card sorting:

Open card sort: Test participants are asked to create the categories themselves and fit the provided items into them.

An example of open card sort

Closed card sort: The respondents are provided with items to sort as well as fixed categories with predefined names. They are asked to put items into the categories they belong to.

An example of closed card sort

Both types of card sorting have their advantages and can be used for different reasons:

Open card sort is the more flexible option. Not only can you find out how many categories users expect on your website, but you also learn labels they give to these categories, which gives you insights into the nomenclature your target group uses. The results are more complex to interpret but can provide you with very interesting patterns into both the categories breakdown and they naming.

Closed card sort is a great way of testing the existing structure – are the categories’ names understandable? Are there categories that weren’t used by the users? Apart from that, closed card sorts is often used when adding new items into the existing structure and checking how users fit it into categories. Finally, it is a great way of verifying the labels created during open card sorting. Remember the testing and testing again bit? That’s when it comes to action.

Successful card sorting is heavily dependant on the participants. They have to represent your existing (or potential, if you’re building a new project) target group. Otherwise the results will be skewed. Take into consideration aspects like age, sex and nationality.



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