card sorting in ux

One of the easiest traps for a company to fall into is designing a product in their eyes rather than the eyes of the customer. This can lead to many problems. In order to avoid it, it’s important that the user experience is driven by customer feedback. One popular way companies attempt to give user’s a decisive say in UX design is through card sorting. In this article, we will define card sorting, discuss some different branches of it, and talk about its various advantages.

What is card sorting in UX?

Card sorting is a popular research technique that allows participants to organize information into categories that they deem relevant, useful, or important. Traditionally, you provide the user with a set of information and ask them to sort it into multiple pre-defined categories. Card sorting enables users to group items based on categories they define, creating more dynamic associations and freely organizing the given information.

This research method is traditionally done in person but can also be easily replicated through online whiteboards. Simply display the required information on physical or digital sticky notes and let users sort it into their desired groups.


Different types of card sorting

Depending on your goals, card sorting is an activity that can be very broad or very specific. Here we’ll outline some of the different types of card sorting and how you can facilitate these versions effectively.


Open vs. closed

Open card sorting is the most traditional method and asks participants to sort the given cards however they want. The cards could make up two groups, ten groups, and in whatever organization they desire. The participant will also label these groups to better understand how they’re related.

Closed card sorting is more rigid and has participants sort information into predefined groups. While this seems counterproductive to the whole activity, it’s usually a second or third round of feedback after you have predefined groups from other rounds.


Moderated vs. unmoderated

Moderated and unmoderated card sorting is similar to moderated and unmoderated testing. This essentially involves utilizing a moderator to help guide the participant through the experience and shows them how to proceed. Moderated testing is usually a more complete experience, where participants can easily share their thought processes in real-time. Additionally, they can analyze the final result on the spot and understand why the participant organized their cards in a certain way. Traditionally, in-person moderated card sorting is more accessible, where two parties interact and communicate directly.

If card sorting in person isn’t an option, doing so through an online whiteboard is just as easy and quite effective. Use this method when conducting unmoderated card sorting. This has upsides and downsides. Unmoderated card sorting is helpful because it can reach a large number of people rather than conducting research one at a time. While doing this helps access a large number of participants, it becomes much harder to analyze their feedback. Without direct communication, their rationale is often a mystery and isn’t as helpful as it could be.


Card sorting advantages

As previously discussed, there are some significant advantages to implementing card testing as a user research method in UX. Here are some of the main reasons to start card testing:

  • User-driven: One of the most important reasons to conduct card testing is to integrate the user’s perspective into their experience. By giving users an open framework to provide feedback, you take a big first step to bettering their experience.
  • Creates unique feedback: Along with being user-driven, one of the best benefits of card testing is the ability to create unique feedback that might not be replicated internally or through another method. Because participants make important decisions, card testing creates extremely unique feedback that significantly impacts the user’s experience.
  • Fast: Card testing is an activity that is very quick, regardless of if it’s moderated or unmoderated. Users can sort their information and provide feedback very quickly, and it is generally easy to analyze.
  • Cheap: For the most part, conducting card testing doesn’t require a ton of setup of complex tools. It’s very straightforward and is pretty cheap to implement. Moderated is more expensive, but unmoderated versions are very cheap and allow a ton of people to contribute.
  • Proven: Card testing isn’t brand new, and because of this, it’s been proven to work. This helps ease your mind and ensures you that there will be some actionable results at the end of your testing process.



If you want to find a unique way to integrate user feedback into your user experience, card testing is a great way to do so. Whether you’re designing a new experience or integrating new product features, you should allow users to give direct, self-generated input in order to improve your UX.


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By Fresco

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