There are three main types of card sorting. In this video, learn the key differences in card sort type and understand when to use which variation.
- In an open card sort, you don't have any preset categories and you ask users to group cards however they see fit, with as many or as few groups as make sense. Participants label and describe each group and may suggest additional cards or alternate labels for the existing cards. Open card sorts are best for exploring new structures, generating ideas about how to organize well understood content, and gathering general insight about how people conceptualize information. You often perform open card sorts at the beginning or exploratory stages of a project.
A closed card sort consists of presenting users with a preselected set of categories and asking them to sort cards into the existing structure. A closed card sort is often used as a follow up to an open card sort to see if proposed relationships make sense to users. They're especially useful when adding a new element to well-established structure, such as deciding where to put a new product line on an e-commerce site. Closed card sorts may also help you identify confusing or infrequently used categories, because those ones will be used the least or have a variety of unrelated information grouped inside.
You can also use closed cart sorts to perform analog activities to surveys, such as having users choose whether features are nice to have or must have. A closed card sort is a very visual way for users to rank or categorize information like this. So it may be easier for some users to respond to than a traditional survey format. If you want to propose a structure for participants to sort items into, but also allow them to propose new categories or different names, you call this a hybrid card sort. Hybrid card sorts are flexible.
You can provide fewer categories and will likely see participants generating many of their own categories and labels. You can all suggest a full structure with a just in case clause of adding or renaming. This sort of hybrid test is especially useful if you feel confident about how you've grouped the information, but want more feedback on the language used to describe the groups. If you were in an exploratory phase with your project, you're more likely going to benefit from an open card sort. You're more likely to use the closed card sort if you already know a lot about your users and their context.
- What's card sorting?
- Open, closed, and hybrid card sorts
- Card planning
- Category planning
- Finding, selecting, and screening participants
- Scheduling and incentivizing participants
- Running sessions