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Card sorting

Find out how you can use card sorting as a method to develop your products and services

What is card sorting?

Card sorting is about sorting and structuring words and concepts logically in order to try to find an order among them. The method can, for example, be used when developing a new product or service. By allowing participants in the card sorting to group and categorize specific information in a way that is meaningful to them, you can gain insights into how to build easily navigable structures for, for example, a website or app.

With the knowledge you have gained from a card sorting, you can design better user experiences and tailor a user interface that meets users’ expectations.

Different types of card sorting

In the most common type of card sorting, participants are asked to sort cards into groups and then name the different categories. This is an exercise that often works well at the beginning of a project to get an overview of how potential users categorize and structure information. The card sorting can be done like this:

1. Write topics on different cards, avoid writing cards with difficult words and prejudices.

2. Place the cards on a table.

3. Have the participants group and sort the cards into different piles.

4. Also see if the participants can divide the cards into piles in different subgroups.

5. Let the participants put concrete titles on all card piles.

6. Analyze and present the result.

You can also organize a closed card sorting where participants are to sort cards into existing categories. This can be suitable in a later phase of a project to confirm if the existing structure works. Another variation is a mix between these different types of card sorting. The cards are already divided into different categories and the participants are to sort them among themselves, but the participants can also create new categories. This is sometimes used when it is time to update an information system to see how users initially engage with the existing information architecture and then explore new categories to find new meaningful structures.

Card sorting can be done in a workshop, but it can also be done online with card sorting software. Card sorting can be conducted both in groups and individually. Group card sorting can provide valuable information as participants discuss and argue during the sorting process. However, there is a risk that a dominant personality in the group takes over and decides more than the other participants.

An individual card sorting can be a quick and efficient way to collect data, but you will not have the same opportunity to follow the thought process of the participants. There are also card sortings led by a moderator who can ask questions and follow-up questions during the exercise in order to try to understand the participants’ choices in a deeper way.

When is card sorting a suitable research method?

Card sorting can be used when you want to understand your users’ or customers’ thought processes about how something should work or be structured. The results from a card sorting can help you build more intuitive and easily navigable information structures. It can be very valuable information when a website or app is being developed. Card sorting can also be used to find a logical structure in a story or to understand other people’s priorities. Card sorting can, among other things, help you understand how your users:

  • classifies different ideas, subjects, and concepts
  • organizes specific objects such as icons, images, and menu options
  • sort the same information in different ways.

Advantages and disadvantages of card sorting

Card sorting is a cost-effective method to gain knowledge about how different people group and categorize specific information. All you really need is paper cards and pens. Some of the advantages of card sorting are therefore that the research method is:

  • easy to organize and implement
  • cheap
  • efficient and provides useful data during a short period of time
  • user-based.

There are, however, also some disadvantages with the method. It is a content-centered research method. It can be good for defining an information structure, but it is not equally certain that the structure will work in a real situation.

Another difficulty with the method is that different participants can come up with very different structures. There are no right or wrong answers, but it can be difficult to determine which sorting will be the most effective. Card sorting is also a quite time-consuming research method. The actual card sorting does not take very long, but the analysis can take much longer.

How do you recruit the right participants for a short sorting?

The success of the study largely depends on the participants in the card sorting. Recruiting participants for studies can be very time-consuming. Let us help you find and create groups for your card sorting. We base our selection criteria on the ones you have given us and recruit participants who can represent your real users or customers. You may be looking for experienced users or users who have never tried your product or service. You may be looking for participants in a specific age category or who speak a particular language. We have the ability to find and create groups of participants exactly according to your requirements and preferences.

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