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Card Sorting

What is card sorting?

Card sorting is a user research technique used to understand how users mentally categorize information. It involves participants organizing content into groups based on their own understanding and logic. The technique is typically conducted with physical or digital cards, each representing a piece of information or a topic.

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When to use card sorting?

  • Card sorting helps in designing the structure and organization of information on a website, application, or other digital platforms. It assists in defining the website navigation, content categories, and overall information hierarchy.
  • Card sorting can validate the labels and terminology used within an interface. It allows participants to express their understanding of different terms and identify which labels resonate best with them.
  • Card sorting aids in designing user-friendly interfaces by informing the arrangement and grouping of interface elements. It helps identify patterns in how users naturally group related items and influences the visual layout of the interface.

Benefits of card sorting

  • User-Centric Approach: Card sorting provides valuable insights into users’ mental models and helps designers create information architectures that align with user expectations.
  • Usability: Card sorting helps improve the usability of interfaces by optimizing the placement and grouping of content. It allows designers to identify patterns in users’ organization preferences and design interfaces that align with those preferences.
  • Design Decisions: Card sorting provides empirical data and user insights that inform design decisions. It allows designers to base their choices on user preferences rather than assumptions or personal opinions.
  • Cost-Effective: Card sorting is a relatively low-cost user research method compared to other techniques. It can be conducted with a small number of participants and doesn’t require extensive resources, making it an efficient way to gather valuable insights.

How to create a card sorting study?

  1. Define Objectives: Determine what specific insights or design decisions you aim to gain from the study, such as validating an information architecture or improving content organization.
  2. Select Method: Choose between open card sorting or closed card sorting based on your research goals. Open card sorting allows participants to create their own categories, while closed card sorting provides predefined categories for participants to sort the cards into.
  3. Prepare the Cards: Create a set of cards representing the items or concepts you want participants to sort. Each card should contain a single item or topic, written concisely and clearly. If using an online card sorting tool, prepare the digital cards accordingly.
  4. Participant Pool: Define your target audience and determine the number of participants you need for the study. Consider the characteristics of your target users and recruit participants who are representative of your user base.
  5. Create Instructions: Prepare clear and concise instructions for participants, explaining the purpose of the study, how to perform the card sorting task, and any specific guidelines or constraints to follow. Ensure the instructions are easy to understand and facilitate consistent participation.

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How to analyze card sorting?

To analyze card sorting data, review participants’ sorting patterns and identify common categories. Assess the level of consensus for each card placement, analyze groupings for themes and connections, and consider outliers for additional insights. Compare participant perspectives, note qualitative feedback, and synthesize the findings to inform decisions.

How many users are enough for a card-sorting study?

The number of users required for a card-sorting study can vary depending on factors such as the complexity of the project, the diversity of the user population, and the research goals. However, a commonly recommended guideline is to aim for a minimum of 15 to 20 participants. 

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