Card Sorting

Card sorting is a user-centered design method for increasing a system’s findability. The process involves sorting a series of cards, each labeled with a piece of content or functionality, into groups that make sense to users or participants.

There are two main types of card sorting exercise:

Open Card Sorting:

Participants are given cards showing site content with no pre-established groupings. They are asked to sort cards into groups that they feel are appropriate and then describe each group. Open card sorting is useful as input to information structures in new or existing sites and products

Closed Card Sorting:

Participants are given cards showing site content with an established initial set of primary groups. Participants are asked to place cards into these pre-established primary groups. Closed card sorting is useful when adding new content to an existing structure, or for gaining additional feedback after an open card sort.

Research Details

Research Type Sample Size Session Time
Hybrid, Attitudinal, Formative Medium (7 - 10 participants) 30 - 60 minutes

When to Use

  1. Before building site or app information architecture
  2. To generate an overall structure for your information
  3. Establish suggestions for navigations, menus, and possible taxonomies
  4. Learn similarity of needs between user groups


  1. **Select the content **
    1. Current content areas
    2. Planned/future content areas
  2. Select the participants
    1. Participants should be a representative sample of actual (or potential) users
    2. Tell participants they’ll be performing a simple task that will help (re)design the product
  3. Prepare the cards
    1. Labels and descriptions should be short enough that participants can quickly read the card, yet detailed enough that the participant can understand what the content is
    2. Use 3x5 index cards or create virtual cards on a site like Optimal Sort
    3. Limit yourself to 30-40 cards
  4. Run the test
    1. Can be conducted in-person or virtually
    2. During exercise, you main job is to observe and listen
    3. Secondary job is to keep momentum going without leading the participant
    4. If the participant creates a “miscellaneous”, ask them if they are satisfied with that group or would like to take another look to see if it can be sorted further
    5. Once participants are finished, walk them through a particular task to validate results. For instance, if the site has an account management feature, ask them to walk through updating their address information
  5. Analyze the results
    1. For smaller groups, look for broad patterns in the data
    2. For larger groups, analyze results using a spreadsheet


  1. Card Sorting: A Definitive Guide

  2. Card Sort Analysis Best Practices

  3. How to pick cards for card sorting exercise


In-person card sort participant instructions:

Here’s how it works. In front of you is a stack of cards. Those cards represent the content and functionality for this (web site, product). Working together, you should try and sort the cards into groups that make sense to you. Don’t worry about trying to design the navigation; we’ll take care of that. Also, don’t be concerned with trying to organize the information as it is currently organized on your (web site, product). We’re more interested in seeing how you would organize it into groups you would expect to find things in.

Once your groups are established, we’d like to have you give each group a name that makes sense to you. You are allowed to make sub-groups if you feel that’s appropriate. If you feel something is missing, you can use a blank index card to add it. Additionally, if a label is unclear, feel free to write a better label on the card. Finally, if you think something doesn’t belong, you can make an “outlier” pile.

Oh, and one last thing. Feel free to ask questions during the exercise if you feel the need. I can’t guarantee that I can answer them during the exercise, but I’ll do my best to answer them when you’re finished.

  1. Research Plan

Created by: Joe Steinkamp | Last updated by: Joe Steinkamp