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What is Card Sorting? Steps and types

What is card sorting?

Card sorting is a user experience research technique. It is used by UX designers and information architects. This technique helps the experts to know the expectations of the target audience in terms of information architecture of the product. This is important because it helps us to categorize and organize the content in a user-friendly way.

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Steps to conduct card sorting

  1. Choose the topics which represent the content of your product. Select around 40 topics. Keep the numbers less as huge quantity can be tiresome for the users and can affect the quality of research.
  2. Write the topics on your physical or digital cards. Shuffle the cards and give them to the users.
  3. Ask the users to perform card sorting by arrange the cards in groups according to their understanding. If they cannot fit some cards into a group, they can just leave them by the side.
  4. Once the users are done with the sorting, analyze the groups they have made. Inspect how the content can be categorized and organized based on user needs to build the information architecture of your product.

Types of card sorting

Physical vs Digital

blank cards composition data
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In physical card-sorting, cards are made with papers and distributed to the audience. The audience has to do the sorting manually. This method is easy as it doesn’t required any training sessions. But as the process is manual, experts can have a difficult time in analyzing.

Digital card sorting uses web-based tools or software like UXtweak, OptimalSort, etc. These tools allow the users to drag, drop and put the cards in a group. The tools can also help with analyzing the information. However, users might need a quick tool training session.

Open vs Closed

In open card sorting, users have the freedom to name or label the groups they have made.

But, closed card sorting restricts the users to put the cards in pre-defined categories.

Moderated vs Unmoderated

Moderate sort is carried in-person where users are asked to explain their actions and thoughts during the process. The organizer can even ask the users some useful questions which can help in further analysis.

Unmoderate sorts are usually done remotely. Hence, interaction with the users is not possible.


While this technique is simple and quick, the analysis can be sometimes time taking and superficial. But again, it depends upon your needs. Plan properly before directly diving into any research technique.

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