Card Sorting – What, How and Why?

Nearly every user can relate to websites that force you to desperately search for content hidden in a sub-category somewhere or where information is stumbled on by pure coincidence rather than due to an intuitive structure. This is a big problem as a site’s information architecture with a clear and simple navigation is one of the main necessities for good usability and, as a result, the success of a digital product. Of course, there are many ways to structure content, however all too often issues arise because information on websites or within apps is organised according to stakeholder perceptions and not to users’ expectations. This is where card sorting comes into play.

Card Sorting – What it is

Online Card Sorting is a method that explores how people group items, allowing you to develop structures that maximize the probability of users being able to easily find what they are looking for. For this reason, Card Sorting involves real users, not developers, designers or other stakeholders. This allows us to learn how end users understand the structure and what expectations they have when interacting with a website. As a result, Card Sorting helps to organize topics into categories that make sense to the users and to find the appropriate terminology for sections that otherwise could be misunderstood. The overall goal: To generate a user-centered taxonomy that results in a better navigation structure and to empower users to find the information that they want easily and efficiently.

Card sorting illustration

Card Sorting – How it works

To conduct a Card Sorting test, you can use actual cards, pieces of paper or one of several online Card Sorting software tools. The last one is the approach Testbirds uses to perform Card Sorting tests with the help of the crowd. Testers are shown virtual cards with all the products or content a website contains and are then asked to sort them into categories. Depending on the client’s needs, you can either perform a closed or an open card sorting test. In the open method, participants are asked to organize topics from content in your website into categories that make sense to them. They then name each group that they created in the way they feel fits best. This approach can especially prove to be invaluable in early stages of development. In comparison, a closed Card Sorting test works with pre-defined categories in which testers sort the content of a website or app. A combination of the two is possible, where you conduct an open Card Sorting test to identify categories and then use a closed Card Sorting test to see how well they work for users.
To increase the accuracy of the results gathered, online Card Sorting tests are usually performed with a minimum of 50 and up to 100 testers. When it comes to an open Card Sorting test, it is especially important to have a high amount of participants to ensure reliable results and to gain a better understanding of the different categories and patterns the testers wish to have.

Card Sorting – Practical Example

Imagine you have to define the sitemap of a new website for booking travel. The company not only offers flights and accommodation, but also rental cars, activities on site and travel books. Furthermore, the target group is very diverse. Families, backpackers as well as couples without kids should be able to easily find what they are looking for – regardless if it is a 4 week all-inclusive beach holiday, a city trip to Madrid or a flight to South Africa that includes transfer to a private lodge in the mountains. In order to find the best navigation and structure for the website, an open Card Sorting test can help you define a perfect first version for the sitemap. All topics like prices, availabilities, destinations, types of holidays, offers, online bookings and much more can be written on visual cards. Afterwards, it is up to the testers to sort them into categories that make the most sense to them without any pre-defined headings and based on the intuition and mindset of users. As the platform has many different target groups, it is recommendable to use a bigger group of at least 100 people to gather reliable data. With the help of the crowd, you can figure out the steps you need to take to optimize your website such as structuring your content not only in regards to various offers like flights or accommodation but also on the types of holidays – a city trip, beach, or long distance travels. Furthermore, users may wish to have special and last-minute offers and to have the most popular destinations always displayed on the starting page. Company information and frequent flyer miles, for example, might prove to be less important to the target group and therefore they should go in the footer.

Card Sorting – The benefits at a glance

• Enables the creation of an intuitive and simple navigation system
• Identifies items that might be hard to categorize
• Helps to understand users’ expectations
• Provides understandable terminology and patterns
• Easy to set up, to conduct and to evaluate with the help of online tools

Do you want to learn more about the possibilities of Card Sorting? Check out our website or approach us for further information.

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