Sometimes questions are more important than answers

What is Card Sorting?

Card sorting is a technique that involves asking users to organise information into logical groups.

Users are given a series of labelled cards and asked to organise and sort them into groups that they think are appropriate. Card sorting helps you to design an information architecture (IA), workflow, menu structure or website navigation paths.

Card Sorting

Card sorting delivers insight on labelling and grouping

Card sorting is a relatively low-tech and inexpensive method used to understand how a user would organise and structure content that makes sense to them. Card sorting can be conducted in a number of ways such as actual cards, pieces of paper, Post-It notes or online tools such as Optimal Sort, which allow you to conduct the research remotely.

This insight allows you to understand how users would expect to see content grouped on a website and how they might see these groups labelled. While card sorting might not provide you with a final information architecture or menu for your site, it can help to identify trends and how many potential categories there could be.

There are a few different types of card sorting methods:

1. Open card sorting

Users are asked to organise cards into groups that they feel is appropriate to them. They are then asked to name each of the groups they have created with a label that best describes that group. This method is commonly used for new/existing information architectures or organising products on a site or when starting to create a new IA from scratch.

2. Closed card sorting

Users are provided with both the content cards as well as the category cards and asked to place the cards in these given categories. This method is normally used when adding new content to an existing site or gaining a second round of insights after an open card sort.

Card sorting can also be either remote or face to face:

3. Remote card sorting

When conducting a remote card sorting session a user will work independently via their own computers to sort the cards that are provided through an online software tool. There are a number of online software tool available on the market today which allow you to set up and distribute to as many users as you require for the test. Some of the most common online software tools are Optimal Sort, Simple card sort and Usabilitest. These online software tools provide you with a number of ways to analyse the data. As the test is conducted remotely there is no contact with the user so there is no way of understanding the reasoning behind why the user has arranged the cards in a certain way.

Remote Card Sorting

4. Face to face card sorting

Face to face card sorting sessions are in person with an observer present. Users are provided with a set of cards to move around and asked to talk through their thoughts and reasoning behind their decisions. The observer has the opportunity to clarify any observations they are unsure of to gain a better insight into why the user has made those choices.

Analysing the data

Once collected, the data is analysed to identify common trends. This is done by using cluster analysis software or if the sample size is small, by inputting the data into a spreadsheet to see if there are any patterns in the groupings or labelling.

Recording a card sorting session

Advantages of card sorting

  • It is simple and cheap to run card sorting sessions
  • Quick to get research conducted and results back from users, especially if sessions are conducted remotely.
  • Provides a good insight about the users and how they would expect the information to be organised

Disadvantages of card sorting

  • Results can be varied and there could be no real pattern in the data
  • Analysing the results can be time-consuming depending on the complexity of the data
  • Card sorting does not take into account users tasks and goals, so if the research is used without taking this into account, you could end up with a structure that is not usable for the user to complete their tasks on the site.


Card sorting is a quick, simple and inexpensive way to gather insights about your users and their thoughts on groupings, categories etc. This method works well at the beginning of projects if you are working on a redesign of a site and as a way of added new content to a site, but will not give you all the answers that you are looking for. Tree Testing is a technique that can be used to validate or challenge the results of your card sort. Using card sorting along with other UX methods such as usability testing and tree testing can help you find out invaluable insights about the experience of your digital products and services.

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More UX Methods Questions

Usability testing is a way to see how easy to use something is by testing it with real users. Users are asked to complete tasks, typically while they are being observed by a researcher, to see where they encounter problems and experience confusion. If more people encounter similar problems, recommendations will be made to overcome these usability issues.

User-centred design is a process or set of tools used to design a service which focuses on what users need at the very beginning and continues throughout development until launch. Typically services are designed from a technical and business perspective, with consideration for users added in later. Instead, User-centred design ensures the service focuses on what users need before balancing this with the technical and business requirements.

Wireframing is a way to design a website service at the structural level. A wireframe is commonly used to lay out content and functionality on a page which takes into account user needs and user journeys. Wireframes are used early in the development process to establish the basic structure of a page before visual design and content is added.

Website prototypes are interactive demos of a website. These are often used to gather feedback from project stakeholders early in the project lifecycle, before the project goes into final development

User requirements capture is a process used to understand what typical users will need from a service which is about to be designed. Users are observed using similar services and interviewed about the ways they go about planning and completing their goals. This information is used to identify a list of content, features and functionality the new service must have in order to satisfy the needs of its users.

Customer profiling is a way to create a portrait of your customers to help you make design decisions concerning your service. Your customers are broken down into groups of customers sharing similar goals and characteristics and each group is given a representative with a photo, a name, and a description.

Card sorting is a technique that involves asking users to organise information into logical groups. Users are given a series of labelled cards and asked to organise and sort them into groups that they think are appropriate. Card sorting helps you to design an information architecture, workflow, menu structure or website navigation paths.

A user journey is a path a user may take to reach their goal when using a particular website. User journeys are used in designing websites to identify the different ways to enable the user to achieve their goal as quickly and easily as possible.

Focus groups are a research method used to gather feedback and opinions from customers. Each person in the group is encouraged to participate in a discussion which is pre-planned by a researcher and is guided by a facilitator. Focus groups are typically used to gauge opinion and gather information from users about products, services, and features before they have been developed.

Remote usability testing is a way to test how easy to use a website is with users who are in a different geographical location. Traditional usability testing brings users and researchers together in one place to conduct the test, whereas remote usability testing allows the researcher and user to be in different locations while the test is completed.

An expert review is where a usability expert uses his/her knowledge and experience of testing websites with users to walk through a website in the shoes of a typical user. The expert will spot problems and recommend changes to improve usability when budgets and timescales don’t allow for user research.

Service design makes a service easier to use, more useful and more desirable for the customers who need to use it: the service user. Whether creating an entirely new service or improving an existing one, service design focuses on what customers really need at each stage of their interaction with an organisation.

Ethnography is a study through direct observation of users in their natural environment rather than in a lab. The objective of this type of research is to gain insights into how users interact with things in their natural environment.

Tree testing is a way of evaluating a proposed site structure by asking users to find items based on the sites organisation and terminology. This online test only displays the navigation links and removes any additional clutter.

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