Having recently completed a card sorting project, I thought I’d discuss Optimal Workshop, a tool we used to make the process a lot easier. What is card sorting and why would I need a tool for it, you ask?
Right, let’s take a step back for a minute.
What Is Card Sorting
Card sorting is a method to help design or evaluate the information architecture of a website.
The organizer of a card sorting session will solicit representative members of a website’s target audiences to participate in a card-sorting session during which they are asked to organize the content of a website by literally sorting cards that are labeled with the kind of content the site contains.
For example, an eCommerce retail site might have cards labeled:
- Women’s Shoes,
- Women’s Blouses,
- Men’s Shoes,
- Men’s Dress Shirts, and
- Men’s Pants.
Participants would be asked to sort these cards into categories that make sense to them and to give those categories labels.
Card sorting sessions can be done in-person with a moderator and using actual printed cards, or they can be done using software or an online service, either with a moderator or not.
Moderated sessions are useful for soliciting the thoughts of participants for understanding why they categorized a card or group of cards a certain way. Moderators typically instruct participants to vocalize their thoughts and reasoning while they are sorting cards and to identify and investigate interesting groupings.
Online systems will make the compilation of the results much easier and provide analysis tools to help extract insights.
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Why Use Card Sorting?
The goal of card sorting is to understand how actual users arrange the information for a given website and to gain insight into the language they apply to that information.
The data and insights gained from a card sorting project can help validate assumptions by site designers about how information should be organized. Conversely, it can unearth information grouping, categories and language that had not previously been considered but which are important to actual users.
The results of a card sorting process can form the foundation of or simply inform the information architecture of a website generally and identify menu labels or website navigation paths, specifically.
Card sorts can be used prior to developing a new website or as a step in a website redesign project.
Types Of Card Sorting
Open vs Closed Card Sorting
Open card sorting sessions allow participants to label the categories in which they group cards with language they feel most appropriately describes a given group of cards. Open card sorts are helpful for understanding the language people apply to groups of content.
Closed card sorting sessions give participants pre-defined categories within which to group cards. This method is good for sites in which you will not be changing the top-level menu system but may want to create sub-menus and/or understand how people arrange content within those top-level sections.
Collecting & Visualizing Card Sorting Results
Now that you know what card sorting is and how you can use it, you’ll need a tool to collect the results, crunch the data, and help you extract useful insights. That’s where services like Optimal Workshop come in handy.
With Optimal Workshop, you can create and label the cards you’ll want participants to sort and give them a URL where they can participate. Optimal Workshop’s video explains its OptimalSort tool:
Card Sort Visualizations
Optimal Workshop provides three basic visualizations based on the results of your card sort project: 1) Dendograms, 2) Similarity Matrixes, and Participant-Centric Analysis.
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Card Sort Dendograms
A dendogram is a tree diagram used to illustrate the grouping of taxonomic labels by displaying them in common clusters. Dendograms can help you see how participants group multiple cards together.
This example from a travel website will give you an idea of what they look like. In this example, you can see that 70% of the participants agreed that London, Athens, Paris, Rome, Venice and Milan should be grouped together. You can also see some of the labels those participants applied to that category, including Romance and Historical Interest.
Card Sort Similarity Matrixes
Similarity matrixes illustrates the strength of pair combinations, giving you a tool to identify areas of strong agreement between two cards. It clusters related pair combinations together. In the example below for a fictional telecomm company, you’ll see that the darker the blue, the greater the agreement with that paring. In the upper left-hand corner, for instance, 92% of participants agreed with the pairing of “BananaCom’s contact phone number” and “The email address to use for BananaCom help.”
The Participant-Centric Analysis illustrates the three most popular card sorts based on how often two cards are paired in the same category throughout the survey. If two participant card sorts contain 50% or more of the same card pairings, then the card sorts support each other.
In the following example for the travel site, you’ll see that the most popular card sort is on the left, with 37 of 50 participants pairing the same cards together at least half of the time. The groupings on the left have the most support from the other 36 participants.
Participant-Centric Analysis can be a useful beginning to building a website’s infrastructure.
Pricing for Optimal Workshop’s OptimalSort tool begins at $109 a month (or $149 for a one-off survey) but there is a limited-use free version available to try it out (scroll to the bottom of the page).
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