User Experience Toolbox: The Power of Card Sorting

Last week we held a lunch and learn in partnership with Boltmade where Yang Chen, talented User Experience designer, taught us how to conduct a card sorting workshop.

If you’ve never heard of card sorting before, it is a powerful and intuitive research tool that helps you design a product, such as a website or app, in a way that makes sense to your users. Card sorting helps the user experience and product designer to understand how to present information and functionality to users in a way they find easy to use. Follow this link to find more about student entrepreneurship program.

Benefits of Card Sorting:

  • Fast results
  • Better design
  • Low cost
  • Easy to conductCard sorting is fast and easy, not only to set-up, but also to conduct. With just a handful of pens and some index cards, you can quickly create the cards needed. In a single card sorting session, you can begin to see patterns emerge in as few as 5 card sorts, meaning you don’t need a large sample size or repeated testing to get usable insights.

How Card Sorting Works

The process is very simple. The User Experience researcher finds participants from their target user base and has them work in small groups to categorize concepts into groupings that make sense to them. The cards typically contain categories (such as menus for a website or app), or functions.

Types of Card Sorts

There are two types of card sorts you can run:  open and closed. Each comes with its own benefits, and challenges.

Open Closed
What is it? Participants generate their own categories Participants sort cards into pre-defined categories
Useful for Generating ideas as inputs for a potential structure Refining ideas; when you want to add content to an existing information architecture; or when categories aren’t changeable
Challenges Analysis will likely take more effort, given the various participant-generated categories May not represent an overall structure that best matches participants’ expectations (since categories were pre-defined)

Chart provided by Yang Chen

What we Learned during our Lunch and Learn

During our lunch and learn, Yang led the group through an exercise where we imagined we were creating an exhibition for a museum. This open, team based sort had small groups categorizing 54 cards into various exhibitions. Cards with terms things like Chinese Architecture, Ice Age, Nanotechnology, and Thomas Edison had to be categorized into a limited number of exhibits that made sense to the participants.

Additional research methods chart

One of the important things that came out of this card sort was not just figuring out how to categorize ideas, but how to learn from the discussions during the card sorting. These discussions help fuel the researchers understanding of the root reasoning behind certain categorization choices, and will help the user experience professional decide when there isn’t a clear consensus. For example, interestingly, one card seemed to give each group trouble, as it defied easy categorization: Kid’s Zone. This brought up interesting discussion, but no clear consensus was reached. Ultimately, it will be up to the user experience designer to decide.

As with all of our Boltmade events, attendees had fun getting hands-on while learning how to use this valuable user experience tool. While this blog post provides a quick introduction to card sorting, Yang Chen wrote a much more in depth post on Boltmade’s blog, which you can read fully here.

We hope to see you at our next lunch and learn of the term, which will also consequently be our term end party. Join us for BBQ, Beer, & Bots! as tickets are going fast!