How to Run a Card Sorting Exercise in 7 Easy Steps

How to run a card sorting exercise is crucial to researching how users want items laid out on websites, apps, and other products.. 38% of users will leave a website if they think the layout is unattractive and most of the rest leave if they can’t find what they are looking for.

Card sorting exercises are done to sort topics or pages for a website’s information architecture in the way user’s think they should be organized. This helps users find things and have a better user experience when using a website or app. How to run a card sorting exercise is done in 7 steps:

  • Write Down Topics.
  • Identify and Write Down Pages/Subtopics.
  • Decide if You’re Going to do a Digital or Written Test.
  • Write Introduction and Conclusion.
  • Estimate the Time and Get Volunteers.
  • Run the Exercise.
  • Analyze the Results.

Card Sorting

What is Card Sorting?

Card sorting is one of the methods in ux research that analyzes the information architecture of a website or app. Card sorting starts with making cards about the main topics or pages of a website or app as well as desired headings that the topics/pages will be organized in. If budget or time constraints prevent researchers from having users go through card sorting tests, they can do it themselves. Best results happen when multiple users do the exercise; this results in finding the most common ways to sort topics and pages.

Types of Card Sorting

Open card sorting has users/testers/participants writing out main topics or headings that they sort pages or subtopics into. This is good for when the subtopics that will be sorted are already made but the topics are not; researchers find how the users think the main topics/headings should be. This is good for designing a new layout (real user data should always backup design decisions).

Closed card sorting has testers only sorting the subtopics into existing headings that the researchers created ahead of time. This type of card sorting reveals how users organize existing topics into headings. This is good for confirming expectations about existing organization of information architecture but may reveal surprising correlations.

Hybrid card sorting is a combination of open and closed card sorting. Researchers create headings ahead of time but also include blank heading cards for testers to fill in if they think that topics don’t belong in any of the provided headings.

Benefits of Card Sorting

Benefits of doing a card sorting exercise include:

  • Organizing the Information architecture of the site.
  • Designing the layout based on user research
  • Discovering tags and categories for products and/or posts.
  • Finding the most crucial items for the homepage.
  • Learning in-depth of how users group items and topics.

How to Run a Card Sorting Exercise

Write Down Topics (If using closed version)

No matter the version you need to get together cards first. Decide if you’re going to do an open, closed, or hybrid card sorting exercise. Open is best for new layouts or designs while closed is best for confirming the efficiency of existing designs. If you have headings you wish to test while leaving the option for users to add headings, hybrid is the type you want. 

If you’re using closed or hybrid card sorting, you need to prepare the headings/main topics in advance. Create 4-10 headings while keeping each heading short (1-5 words, give or take). Make sure to use an easy to read font (or handwriting) and easy-on-the-eye colors.

women writing writing style guides

Identify and Write Down Pages/Subtopics

Card sorting exercises involve sorting either pages, subtopics, subheadings, or other things into categories/main topics. Make a list of all the subtopics you have and/or want to research placement and then make cards for them. A good number of total cards for both categories/topics and pages/subtopics for a large site is between 30-60. Smaller sites should have 10-20 cards.

Decide if You’re Going Digital or Paper

Digital/remote testing involves sending participants a set-up test with software at their own computers where they go through the exercise at their convenience. The main benefit of this method is that it allows many participants in many different locations and time zones to go through the test, making this test easier to find participants and more convenient for them to do the exercise. The main drawback is that this method gets less data on why participants sorted the cards the way they did since researchers have little insight into the participants’ thought process.

Paper, in-person testing has the participants sorting the cards in front of a facilitator. This method provides more data on the through process of the sorting and how easy or hard specific topics are to sort since the facilitator can take notes (both observational and on the testers’ spoken out loud thought process) and ask the tester questions. You can even get feedback on why participants sorted the way they did or if any cards seem to belong in two topics/categories. The main drawback to this method is finding participants that are willing to come in at a specified time and place; this will reduce the number of willing participants you will get.

Write the Introduction and Conclusion

Whether you’re going remote or in-person, your card sorting exercise should have an introduction and conclusion for the testers. The introduction should give an explanation of the exercise, an estimate of how long the card sorting exercise will take users to complete, a mention of the fact that the exercise is recorded, and a note on who (both the brand and facilitator’s name) is running the exercise. 

It should also be written to put the tester at ease, including emphasizing that this exercise is not a test of the user and there are no wrong answers or decisions for sorting the cards into the categories. For in-person testing, both the introduction and conclusion should be put together as part of a script for the facilitator to follow during the testing.

The conclusion should congratulate the user in finishing the exercise and should have a brief reminder of the company/brand that ran the exercise. Add a method to contact researchers with any further questions and comments and explain how the tester will be getting the reward for participating (if the exercise took more than 15 minutes, you should include one, possibly a gift card, money, a free product or service, etc.)

Estimate the Time and Get Volunteers

The more cards you have the longer the test will take. A good estimate is to take 15 minutes for every 30 cards. If you have less than 20, limit the test to 10 minutes. How many testers you should get depends on how big your website or app is. If it is smaller, 7-15 testers will work. Bigger sites should get between 20-50 testers, having at least 20. Make sure you get a way to contact them to either send them the location and time of the exercise or a link to the remote exercise.

people advertising with social media

Run the Exercise

man running outline

Everything is set up and everyone is in place; let’s run the exercise. If going remote, send users that agreed to take part an email with a link to the exercise and an estimate of how long it will take. Include a text box for comments (if the software allows) for users to include comments or parts of their thought process while they run the exercise. Now just wait for the results.

If running an in-person card sorting exercise, start by going through the introduction made previously and then asking if the participant has any questions. When the participant is ready, let them start and start the timer. Try not to distract them as much as possible; only reminding them to think out loud if they forget. The facilitator should be taking notes both on observations they make and what the tester says of their thinking process. When either the participant is finished or time runs out, stop the exercise. Finish by going through the conclusion made previously and thanking the participant for their time.

Analyze the Results

Now that you have gone through running a card sorting exercise, it’s time to analyze the results. Start with studying the quantitative data such as which cards were sorted together the most often, how often users sorted cards into the same categories, and which  Also, analyze the qualitative data based on users’ feedback and comments and recorded observations on how much they struggled or found ease with specific cards. 

Summary

Card sorting exercises are done to sort topics or pages for a website’s information architecture in the way user’s think they should be organized. This helps users find things and have a better user experience when using a website or app. How to run a card sorting exercise is done in 7 steps:

  • Write Down Topics.
  • Identify and Write Down Pages/Subtopics.
  • Decide if You’re Going Digital or Paper.
  • Write Introduction and Conclusion.
  • Estimate the Time and Get Volunteers.
  • Run the Exercise.
  • Analyze the Results.

Similar Posts

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.