Now available for pre-order: Managing Priorities by Harry Max

Frequently Asked Questions

These common questions about card sorting and their short answers are taken from Donna Spencer’s book Card Sorting: Designing Usable Categories. You can find longer answers to each in your copy of the book, either printed or digital version.

  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.
    See Chapter 1 for more information on what a card sort involves. 
  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.
    See page 149 for more information on how to test your information architecture 
  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.
    More tips for large sites are on page 70.
  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.
    More tips on selecting people are in Chapter 6.
  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.
    See page 99 for more questions participants ask.
  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.
    Read about analysis in Chapters 9 and 10.
  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.

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