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Consider card sorting when testing your IA

Card sorting is a method used to help design or evaluate the IA of a website. It’s a quick and easy technique for exploring how users group information so that a site structure can be developed with them in mind.

It involves asking users to organise information into logical groups then label those groups with terminology that makes sense to them. The results help us 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 us with a final IA, it helps to identify trends and how many potential categories there could be on the new IA.

To conduct a card sort, you can use actual cards, pieces of paper, or one of several online card-sorting software tools.

Remote vs moderated

Remote, online card sorting is when users work independently in their own environment, using their own devices.

There are a number of online tools available to help you run and analyse your remote card sort, some of which include Optimal SortSimple card sort and Usabilitest.

Benefits of remote card sorting

  • Online tools are quick and easy to set up and provide you with a number of ways to analyse the results
  • You get quantitative data quickly
  • It involves less resource time in terms of set-up and analysis
  • There is no limit to the number participants to involve

On the other hand, moderated card sorting is done in person with an observer present. When conducting the card sort, users are asked to talk through their thoughts and decisions and the observer (you) has the opportunity to ask questions to gain a better understanding to the reasons why users have arranged the cards in a certain way.

Benefits of moderated card sorting

  • It allows you to gather insights into how people feel about what they're doing or saying in the study
  • It’s great for gathering qualitative results
  • Online tools can also be used, as well as physical cards
  • It’s a great task to use in focus groups

Types of card sorting

Open card sorting is when users create and label their own groups. Participants are given a number of cards that represent pages, information, content and assets of the website. They are then asked to group these cards in a way that makes sense to them and then label their cards.

Closed card sorting is when users are given predefined groups, often the primary and/or secondary navigation structure. Similar to open card sorting, participants are given a number of cards, but instead of creating their own groups, they are asked to place these cards under the categories you have given them.

Hybrid card sorting is when participants sort cards into categories you give them, but they can also create and label their own groups too.

Treejack testing is reversed card sorting, where an IA is proposed and the exercise is used to evaluate the findability of topics/pages on your site. You create a simplified version of the site structure and set the users tasks to find information.

Top tips when card sorting

  • Limit the number of cards. 30 or 40 is ideal, especially for an open sort
  • Randomise the order of your cards so that you don’t give them any ideas
  • Let them know how long the card sort is likely to take
  • Consider an open sort as part 1, a closed sort as part 2 and a tree jack as part 3 of your process. One allows you to learn what goes together, 2 allows you to really test out your labels to see if they are intuitive to your participants and 3 allows you verify if users can find what they're looking for.

What’s next

If you found this blog interesting, read our next blog that covers the importance of developing personas and journeys.

Take a look at our discovery and UX services to see where we can help. 

Contact our team for more details