7 Frequently Asked Questions on Card Sorting

by Donna Spencer

These frequently asked questions are found in Donna Spencer’s book, Card Sorting—Designing Usable Categories. You’ll find great examples and more detailed explanations to these questions and other card sorting related issues in the book.

1. I wrote our content on cards/sticky notes and our team shuffled it around to create the IA. That’s a card sort, isn’t it?

Not really. That’s just shuffling content ideas around the table (which is still useful, just not really a card sort). I think the essential element to something being a card sort is that it involves real users of your information.

2. I need to test that my draft information architecture is okay. Should I do a closed card sort?

A closed card sort is where you ask people to slot content into a set of categories that you give them. It is useful to learn about where they think content goes, but a closed card sort will not tell you whether they will be able to find it. If you need to make sure that people can find information in your IA, you should give them a set of tasks and ask where they would look.

3. My website is really big. How do I get the card sort to cover it all?

This can be really tricky because you can’t just give people an enormous pile of cards. You can sort with topics instead of detailed content, focus on just part of the site at a time, or run a series of sorts to get good coverage.

4. How many people should I involve so the answer is statistically significant?

Statistical significance is really not important—you want insights and ideas rather than the one true answer. You should involve enough people so that you see enough similarities and differences to help with your design project.

5. Should I let people put cards in more than one place?

Participants often ask if they can put cards in more than one place, especially when there is not one clear home for a card. I always allow them to do so. It gives me useful information about content that may cross categories.

6. What do I do with all this data?

Ah, that is the big question. Spend some time just looking for patterns and “interesting” things in the data. Then dig a bit deeper and look at similarities and differences. You may not get one perfect answer, but you’ll always learn interesting things for your project.

7. I don’t remember my university statistics. How do I analyze all this?

If you don’t know how to do statistics, that’s okay. Don’t try! There are ways to analyze data without statistics—exploring it, looking for patterns, identifying similarities and differences. And you’ll learn more than if you plugged it into a statistics tool and got an answer. But make sure you don’t collect more information than you need, or this will be impossible to do. See Chapters 9 and 10 for information on how to analyze with and without statistics.

About the Author

Donna is an information architect, interaction designer, and writer whose work in web and mobile focuses on user needs. she’s also our industry’s foremost leader on how card sorting benefits team communication and the usability of organizations’ websites. Find her on Twitter @maadonna.

Strategic Approaches to UX Research

Intensive June 3-7, 2024 • Strategic UX Research is changing organizations. Get ready to change yours.

In five 90-minute sessions, explore how to connect your organization’s long-term direction and strategy directly to your customers’ and users’ deepest needs. Join us starting on June 3 and start leading your organization through this powerful, game-changing transformation.

Dive Into Our UX Research Intensive