Information Architecture: from
the customers point of view!
By Rick Barron!
Card sorting...what is it?!
Card sorting is a useful
tool to determine...!
will appear on a
“card sort” comes from using
simple index cards with a word
or phrase written on one side,
and in some cases, a deﬁnition
or additional information on the
reverse side. !
2 types of card sort exercises !
Open Card Sort #1!
Participants are given cards showing site content with no
pre-established content/navigation groupings. They then
sort cards into groups that they feel are appropriate to them. !
Once grouped, the participants are asked to name each
group of cards and describe them. Open card sorting allows
participants to create the structure that is most intuitive for
Closed Card Sort #2!
Participants are provided group names, and asked to place
each of the cards into one of the pre-established groups. A
variation of the closed card sort is a semi-open/closed card
In a semi-open/closed card sort, participants begin with a
closed card sort, with the exception that they are allowed to
make changes to the group names, and may add new
groups, rename groups, and remove groups.!
Card sorting is a useful tool to help
start sorting out the structuring of
your information architecture.
However, where you gain the most
value from card sorting is what the
users say during the exercise.
Listen carefully to what they convey
as they sort the cards.
Observing why and where people
place certain cards, will provide
valuable insight into how their mental
models arrived to the end result. !
✔ Select end-users...not stake holders of the website
✔ Determine needs from ʻactual usersʼ
✔ If individual testing, 7-10 is a good sampling
✔ If groups, rule of thumb is 5 groups of 3 participants
✔ Recruiting individuals than
groups can be easier
✔ Sorting large volume of cards
may be difﬁcult
✔ Some individuals may need
coaching to ʻthink out loudʼ
✔ Recruiting large groups can be
✔ Can sort large volume of cards
faster than an individual
✔ Groups collaborate, thus they
tend to provide very good data
✔ Patterns tend to develop Source: http://www.ﬂickr.com/photos/jbarahona/2033061941/
within ﬁve groups
✔ Assign a letter or number for each card as this will
make the analysis easier after the test
✔ Print on standard cards and be sure writing is legible
✔ Use simple 3x5 cards
✔ Have blank 3x5 cards available as participants may
want to add something to your list
✔ 30 to 100 cards is a good rule of thumb for the test!
Running the test
✔ Observe/listen. Keep the pace moving but donʼt lead
✔ Shufﬂe the cards to prevent the same sequence, such
that the next user doesnʼt see the previous sequence
✔ Encourage participants to talk out loud about what
theyʼre thinking as they sort
✔ Ask users to describe the cards in their pile. How
would they name the piles and why?!
Sorting the results #1
✔ Look for broad patterns
✔ With small volume of cards, you may see pattern of
✔ If large volume of cards, use a spreadsheet
✔ Take note of participants that change a label on a
card. Note new label, with the old label in bold or
Sorting the results #2
✔ When looking for patterns identiﬁed by the groups,
bear in mind the discussions during the sorting
✔ The groups discussions will help shed more light on
the sorting results
✔ Donʼt worry about ﬁnding ʻtheʼ answer, but rather for
new insights and new ideas
Pattern results will call out:
✔ Areas of content that wasnʼt clear in meaning to
✔ Content that could fall into more than one area
✔ Alternative titles that would link to the content
✔ How various types of groups see the information
+ʼs and -ʼs!
The +ʼs for card
✔ Cost is low
✔ Simple and quick
✔ Quick to launch
✔ 10+ years in use
✔ Users get involved Source: http://farm4.static.ﬂickr.com/3052/2711017468_0bf51904ff.jpg?v=0
✔ Generates an overall structure for your information!
The -ʼs for card
✔ Results will vary
✔ Takes time to sort out the data
✔ Suggest solutions that imply structures
✔ Becomes difﬁcult to navigate with more categories
✔ Only involves the elements written on the cards!
Why use card sorting?!
Trends such as:
- Are there similarities in what users are needing?
- Is there a need to group information, say by
process, subject, type of information, or business group?
- How many main categories are derived from the test?
Few Take Aways!
It helps to learn the userʼs
mental model to drive the
information architecture of
Using a card sorting method
helps obtain feedback about
the content, terminology, and
organization of your product.
When you understand the
userʼs mental model, you
know how to then increase
ﬁndability, which helps make
the product easier to use.!
Card sorting is a user-centered,
formative technique, thus itʼs
best used when...!
✔ Youʼre planning to design a brand new site
✔ Designing a new area of the site
✔ Tackling the redesign of an entire site
✔ Investigate what your customers identify as a need
✔ Content audit/inventory or detailed content list (for
a new site). For an existing site, it is crucial that the
content inventory is examined carefully to include
only content that is needed by users