UX Research & User Testing Course

Open Card Sorting: Create Effective Information Architecture

When creating the information architecture for a website, it's crucial to make sure the site structure makes sense to users and is easy to navigate. Open card sorting helps in creating well-labeled top-level sections that users understand.

User-Centric Categories with Open Card Sorting

In an open card sort, participants are given cards representing your content and asked to organize them into groups that make sense to them. The best part? They get to create and name these groups themselves, giving you a direct window into how users naturally categorize your information.

By exploring the patterns and themes that emerge from open card sorting, you can craft a website structure that feels intuitive and logical to your users. It’s like having a secret map to your users’ mental models, empowering you to design a navigation system that they’ll love using.

Running an Open Card Sort

  1. Log into a card sorting tool like UX Metrics.
  2. Create a new card sort and give it a name (e.g., “Open Card Sort”).
  3. (Optional) Enter welcome messages and instructions, or use the default settings.
  4. Select “Open Card Sort” to allow participants to organize cards in any way that makes sense to them.
  5. Add cards representing the most critical pieces of content on your website (recommended: no more than 30 cards).
  6. (Optional) Enable features like randomizing the order of cards for participants.
  7. Publish the card sort and obtain a link to share with participants.

Participant Experience

  1. Participants see the welcome information and instructions.
  2. They can drag and drop cards into groups that make sense to them.
  3. Participants label each group they create.
  4. Once finished, participants submit their card sort.

Analyzing Results

  1. View the results in the card sorting tool.
  2. See where each card was sorted and the percentage of participants who placed it in each group.
  3. Review all the groups created by participants.
  4. If two groups are similar, merge them together to simplify the structure.

The Value of Open Card Sorting

Open card sorting is a valuable method for creating an effective information architecture that aligns with users’ mental models. By allowing participants to organize content into groups that make sense to them and label those groups accordingly, you gain insights into how users naturally categorize information. Analyzing the results of an open card sort helps you identify common patterns and themes, which can inform the labeling and structure of your website’s top-level sections. This user-centered approach to information architecture ensures that your website is intuitive and easy to navigate, ultimately improving the user experience and increasing engagement.

Open Card Sort Video Transcript

So when creating the information architecture for a website, you want to ensure that that information architecture makes sense to users and is usable.

To achieve that you can do card sorting.

Now there are two types of card sorting - open card sorting and closed card sorting.

Open card sorting you tend to use when you are creating information architecture top-level sections that you want to be labeled well.

In other words you want to have labels that make sense to your audience and they know what will be in each section.

So let me show you how to run open card sorting.

I use a tool called UX metrics for this but it’s entirely up to you what tool you use and once you have logged into UX metrics you will be offered the opportunity to do card sorting or tree testing.

We want to do card sorting and we’re going to create a new card sort.

Now we can name this card sort whatever we want.

We’ll just call it open card sort and then we can enter some welcome messages and some instructions.

It’s all got really good defaults so you might not have to change any of that anyway.

Then when you hit next you get to choose the type of card sort that you want.

So in this case we’re going to do an open card sort because we want people to be able to organize those cards in any way that makes sense to them.

So what are cards?

Each card is a piece of content on your website and you can add as many cards as you want to.

I recommend not adding more than 30 because you’re going to overwhelm people doing the test.

So what I typically do is create one card for each of the 30 pieces of most critical information that your website communicates.

So you might have cards for example for services, for case studies, for about your company, contact, we might have cards for products, and so on and so on.

Obviously you can add as many as you want.

Once you’ve added all of your cards you hit the next button and you can turn on certain features if you’ve got the pro account such as randomizing the order that people see the cards which I would recommend but none of the others really matter particularly.

Then hit next and you can then publish your card sort.

And once you publish it you can’t change it so make sure you’ve got it right before you hit publish.

But once you’ve done that it’s going to give you a link that you can go to.

We’ll just go to the preview instead and then we hit that and we can see what the user would see.

So they see the welcome information, they then see the instructions related to it, and then we can start dragging these cards and dropping them into any groups that make sense to us.

And then we can give it a label.

I’m going to call it master section because obviously those really don’t go together.

And save and then we can submit.

Now in the back end if we go back into UX metrics I can show you what it looks like on a previous card sort that I’ve done.

Here’s an open card sort I did.

Let’s pick a good one.

As you can see I’ve done a lot for the University of Florida here.

Let’s go with this one.

So I can view my results and what I can do here is I can see where each of my cards were sorted, what groups they were sorted into.

So retirement was sorted into benefits 23% of the time.

So I can see a breakdown of where places have been put.

I can also look at all of the groups that were created.

As you can see here’s a whole load of different groups that were created.

Now if two groups are similar I’ve got the option, these two are, but let’s say they were, select them and then I can merge them together.

So you can really get a sense of what is possible and how people might want to organize information in this way.

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