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Book: Card Sorting - Designing Usable Categories

Donna Spencer's book on card sorting is now available and a first review by Mathew Sanders is out. In his review, he concludes that:

"This is a great book for someone tasked with organising content on a website who is either unfamiliar or unconfident with card sorting. Read this book and absorb it's advice and you'll avoid countless mistakes that people often face with card sorting!"


  • The book Card Sorting - Designing Usable Categories Open link in new window
  • Mathew Sanders' review Open link in new window

Henrik Olsen - May 20, 2009

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Card sorting isn't a silver bullet

According to Sam Ng, card sorting is a great method for understanding users and validating classification systems. But card sorting has limitations. In this article, Sam Ng shares some hard learned lessons:

- Card sorting can easily get out of control if we try to cover too large information spaces at once
- People expect card sorting to create classification systems, but reality is that it doesn't give us all the answers we need to do so
- Analyzing card sort data is messy and there isn't necessarily a single correct answer.
- The best way of doing analysis is to eyeball data.
- Online card sorting tools reduce administrative overhead and makes iterative card sorts easier
- Card sorts should be carried out in iterative cycles, starting at a high level and then drilling down into specific clusters of content


  • Card Sorting: Mistakes Made and Lessons Learned Open link in new window

Henrik Olsen - September 17, 2007

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Online card sorting tool

Optimal Usability has released a new online card sorting tool. You can set up tests, let users categorize information using a drag-and-drop interface and generate reports with the results. It supports both closed sorting, with fixed categories and open sorting, where the participants can name their own categories.

Unfortunately the tool doesn't allow participants to subcategorise items and to put items into multiple categories.


  • The online card sorting tool OptimalSort Open link in new window

Henrik Olsen - June 18, 2007 - via DonnaM

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See also: Tools (106) 



How to validate the success of navigation

Card sorting is excellent for finding patterns in how people categorize information. Iain Barker offers a simple and low-cost method for validating proposed classifications schemes.


  • Measuring the Success of a Classification System Open link in new window

Henrik Olsen - April 25, 2007

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See also: Navigation (63) 



User experience podcast

Tired of reading about user experience? Then you might enjoy listing to Gerry Gaffney's user experience podcast UXpod.

I can highly recommend the interviews with Jesse James Garrett about "Nine Pillars of Successful Web Teams" and Donna Maurer on card sorting.


  • UXpod Open link in new window
  • Interview with Jesse James Garrett about "Nine Pillars of Successful Web Teams" Open link in new window
  • Interview with Donna Maurer on card sorting Open link in new window

Henrik Olsen - September 17, 2006

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See also: Blogs (12)  Audio and video (48)  Interviews (30)  The design process (24) 



Card sorting tools

DonnaM has posted a short summary of seven computer-based card sorting tools. She took a closer look at the two most promising. Her conclusion is:
- IBM's USort was as annoying
- CardZort is nice


  • The post Card sorting tools - final summary Open link in new window

Henrik Olsen - October 24, 2004

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Card Sorting: How Many Users to Test

With the card sorting method we can enhance usability by creating an information architecture that reflects how users organise content. But how many users should we include in a card sorting exercise?

According to Jakob Nielsen, 15 participants will be enough to reach a comfortable result in most projects. Testing 30 people is better but not worth the money. Going beyond 30 users will hardly improve the results. In projects with limited resources for user research, the remaining users are better spent on qualitative usability tests of different design iterations.

His recommendation is based on results from a study measuring the trade-off curve for testing various numbers of users in card sorting.


  • The article Card Sorting: How Many Users to Test Open link in new window

Henrik Olsen - July 25, 2004

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See also: Tips and guidelines (95) 



Card sorting: the definitive guide

Card sorting is a user-centred method for finding patterns in how people categorize information. It can be used to generate structures for information and suggestions for navigation and wording. Here is the "definitive guide" by Donna Maurer and Todd Warfel.


  • The article Card sorting: a definitive guide Open link in new window

Henrik Olsen - April 28, 2004

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User research techniques in comic book form

Dan Willis has created a condensed overview of some of the core techniques used in information architecture. The descriptions are in a comic book form and serve as entertaining reminders of some of our development options. Willis one-pagers cover sitepath diagramming, topic mapping, free listing, card sorting, and personas.


  • IA Classics: Tools of the Trade in Comic Book Form Open link in new window

Henrik Olsen - April 28, 2003 - via Usability Views

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See also: Site and flow diagramming (6)  Posters (5)  Personas (19)  The design process (24)  Usability testing (68) 



Card sorting and cluster analysis for web site organisation

In an article from 1999, Shirley Martin describes a method for user card-sorting to involve users in the organizational design of web sites, and how to use cluster analysis to make sense of multiple participants


  • The article Cluster Analysis for Web Site Organization Open link in new window

Henrik Olsen - April 21, 2003

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