Conduct a Card Sorting Study

Opinions differ just like tastes. That is why when making important design decisions we need to consider what users think. We may argue whether contact information should go in the “about us” section or in the footer or elsewhere and each team member may be right in a sense, but the only opinion that matters is that of the user.

But how can you incorporate users’ ideas into the information architecture of a product?

I suggest card sorting. It’s simple, easy to conduct and analyze and it’s an informative UX design process.

Card sorting is a user study where participants organize content pieces into groups based on topic similarity. The group labels may be predefined (closed card sorting) if you already have some kind of information architecture and navigation. However, it’s even more informative to leave group labeling to the participants (open card sorting), especially if you are unsure about the category naming. This way you will get an understanding of how your users “speak” about the same topic.


Choose Your Methods

Depending on your project goals you can choose to conduct either an open or closed card sorting study. While closed card sorting results may be easier to analyze, open card sorting provides more insights into user mindsets.

Another thing to consider is the medium of the card sorting research: web/remote or traditional paper based studies. There are plenty of online services that give you every single tool you need for a remote card sorting study. Just like remote usability testing, this type of research method comes with pros and cons.

On one hand it’s easier than ever to create cards, send the test to a bunch of users and let the system analyze gathered data and give you a final category tree. On the other hand during a moderated, real life card sorting session the researcher can observe and take notes of discussions, behavior, ideas and questions, which brings a somewhat emotional touch to the raw data.