Card sorting: A Gateway to Information Architecture.

Card sorting is a quantitative user research method used by UX designers and information architects. Here we’ll explain what card sorting is? Why it is useful? And how to conduct sorting?

What is Card Sorting? 

Card sorting is a UX research technique used to evaluate and generate ideas for the information architecture of a product or service. 

Information architecture focuses on how your content is organized, structured, and labeled well throughout. IA makes it easy for the users to navigate through products, allowing them to find what they are looking for. This is a crucial part of creating a good user experience. As designers, you’ll want to determine the most logical user-friendly way to organize your content. If you’re designing a mobile app, you’ll need to think about which information is presented on each screen. 

If you’re creating a website, you’ll need to decide how to structure your menu. Cards sorting will help you figure it all out,

Most importantly with card sorting, topics users’ avoid mistakes while structuring the site. Based on how you think it should be organized well. You may have ideas about what is logical but you are not your target user. 

Card sorting: A Gateway to Information Architecture.

Card Sorting

Card sorting will help you to remain user-focused. As the name suggests, card sorting needs cards. 

  1. First, you’ll pick a set of topics based on the content you want to include on your website or app. 
  2. You write different topics on each card. Shuffle to remove information, and group the relevant information in a certain way making sense to them. 
  3. This helps to understand your user’s mental models and thus determine the best way, to organize your site content. 

A mental model is based on users’ beliefs. They expect a certain system when it comes to websites and apps. The user’s mental model will influence how they navigate and interact with the interface.

So as a designer it’s important to design products, that match the user expectations card. User expectation card sorting is to learn about, the way user expects information to be categorized and structured differently.

Card sorting: A Gateway to Information Architecture.

In-person card sorting

Card Storing types :

  1. Remote VS In-person:

Card sorting can be conducted either remotely or in person. 

In remote card sorting, write your topics on index cards and set the user up at a large desk, or table. The users will drag and drop the digital cards. You can conduct the remove card sorts using specific software or tools.

The good thing about the in-person card is the user has plenty of space to work with. They can easily rearrange the cards, in case they change their mind. The downside is, you’ll have to document the results manually for analysis later, unlike the digital card sort, the software will collect and analyze the results for you. 

  1. Open vs closed: 

In open cards, the users are free to create their labels or category names for the group. In closed card sort, the users are provided with a set of predetermined categories. These are common methods to conceptualize a set of topics.

 In short, a closed card will not show you how users conceptualize a set of topics. It feels like you are testing a user’s ability to place the content in the right category. You want to see how the user arranges their information freely, and open card sort gives them the freedom. However, a closed card sort comes in handy if you want to test how logical your existing information architecture is.

  1. Moderated vs unmoderated:

The card can also be moderated and unmoderated. Moderated card sorting usually takes place in person, you ask your users to think out loud, while sorting the cards or explain the rationale behind their choices. 


  1. Are there any cards that were especially difficult to categorize?
  2. Are there any topics that you get could have been placed in more than one group?

If users have left cards unsorted, it’s a good idea to ask them why? Moderator card sorting is a great way to gain further qualitative insights into your user’s behavior. Unmoderated card sorting on the other hand any interaction between the user and the person conducting the remote research.

Conducting card sort:

Whether you conduct a digital or physical card sort, you’ll generally follow the same steps.

  1. Creating lists of topics based on the content of your website or app. Let’s imagine a dating app that would require adding photos, shuffle cards, new matches, messages, and report users. Similarly, come up with 30-40 different types of cards.
  2. Shuffle the cards and let the user open up as a pile. An unknown pile is also fine for them to change their mind and rearrange the cards throughout. There’s no right and a wrong number of the pile and they can be of only different sizes. 
  3. Once the user grouped all the topics ask them to create a name for each group. Remember to bring some spare blank cards for this step. In the end, you can ask the user to explain how and why they came up with the category they did. If they struggle to place the cards went back and forth between a few groups to analyze the results. Once the cards are sorted your get to know. 
  4. What common groups did your users come up with, and which cards are frequently paired together. 

The emerging pattern gets an idea of how the app will look like. 


  1. Card sorting is made your complex sorting easy. To start with, you can let the users know why you are conducting card sorting. To make it simple use 40 cards to shuffle. The main goal is to improve information architecture by labeling the content, grouping them, and organizing the information.

Card sorting is quick, cost-efficient, involves users, and follows an established method. It doesn’t matter what type of card sorting you use, you can analyze it with similarity matrix, result matrix, dendrogram, or using participant-centric matrix.

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