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What is Card Sorting in UX? Resources and Hacks

Card sorting UX is one among the quantitative UX methods, that is used by UX designers and information architects. In this article we cover card sorting user testing, why it is useful and some resources and hacks to use it in your design.

What is card sorting?

Card sorting user testing is among the many quantititative research tools, designers can use to assess or determine the way information is grouped, labeled and organized within a site. It asks users to sort various content topics into categories that make sense to them. This tools helps you understand what users expectations are from your product so that you can design a website or app that meets their needs. By using the insights gathered from card sorting, you can present the information to your uses in a much more seamless way that makes it a lot more accessible and easily findable.

Card sorting

How is card sorting done?

In this technique, designers use cards to conduct the activity. They first pick a set of topics based on the kind of content they want to include in their product. Designers write a different topic on each card, shuffle the cards in any random order and then hand them over to the user to sort into piles. 

The objective of card sorting is to understand how users group information and what makes sense to them. It helps you as a designer understand your users mental model – or in other words how they expect a system to work. Their mental model influences how they interact with websites and apps, how they navigate and interact with the service. As designers it is our responsibility to design products that match the expectations of users, and this is a useful tool that tells you exactly how users expect information to be categorized and structured.

card sorting

How is card sorting useful?

It can help designers understand how items should be grouped together and how to structure the navigation. It helps designers evaluate the information architecture of a site. From understanding what needs to go on the homepage, to the sections that the website needs to have and finally, finding the best way to present information to a user that makes it easy and convenient for them to find and complete a task, card sorting is the best tool that helps you gather all of this information. Information that you get from this activity can help you construct a website that is intuitive and easy to navigate.

card sorting

Types of card sorting

There are several types of card sorting that are used based on the circumstances and the information you are trying to gather.

Open card sorting

In this kind of card sorting, test participants are asked to create their own category labels and sort the cards as per any system that they establish. This kind of card sorting technique is used to learn how users group things and what systems they use to label those groups.

Closed card sorting

In this technique, designers create pre decided categories. Test participants are expected to match the cards they are given to these categories. This is useful to know how users sort topics into a predefined set of categories. 

Group card sorting 

Multiple participants come together to work on a closed or open card sort. These sessions can be recorded to gather several insights. 

Remote card sorting
In this type of research method, participants sort the cards independently from a remote location on their computers. Both open and closed card sorts can be done remotely. There are dedicated software’s that analyze the data for you in digital card sorting.

Tools and resources

Card sorting can be done with physical cards by using paper or cardboard. However there are also several online tools that help you conduct card sorts such as UserZoom, Optimal Workshop and Usability Tools. Each one has its own pros and cons. Ensure that you set aside adequate time to prepare and conduct the research. If you are conducting a closed card sort, you will need some time to create the cards for the predefined categories.

Card sorting tips and hacks

These are some tips and tricks to ensure your card sort goes smoothly.

  1. Do a trial run

Before you go ahead and conduct your card sort, run a test card sort with friends or colleagues to determine any typos, errors or misunderstandings that may occur. This is essential to ensure that no errors happen during the actual card sort. Failure to do this could result in having to throw our real user data.

2. Number your cards

Consider numbering each card to analyse them better at the end of the card sort. List all the cards in a table or spreadsheet to make the topics easy to understand.

3. Keep the topic labels brief 

The topics should be short and concise so that they are easy to read and do not overwhelm the participants.

4. Start with the cards in random order 

Ensure there is no bias by beginning the session with randomly assorted content.

5. Keep an estimate of time

Give users an estimated time that it will take them to complete the task so that they understand the time and effort involved.

Conclusion

Card sorting is essential to understanding user behavior through research and testing. It helps design a product that is intuitive and easy to use. Do as many tests as needed to interpret the data and understand how users make sense of the information they are presented with. 

Published by Anjini Khanna

UX Designer

Anjini

Anjini Khanna UX Designer