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Card Sorting: Its Role in User Centered Design

Posted @ 12:55 pm by Yusuf Asgerally | Category: Technology, User Experience | 0 Comments

Card sorting is a well known tool in Usability circles for determining content organization and ultimately informing the site architecture, nomenclature and primary navigation of a website. During this exercise the participant is given a stack of cards (either index or business card sized) with a name and a short description of the type of content that they could expect to find on that page. The user then groups these cards into piles or categories that feel natural to them.

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When Googling the term “card sorting” it become obvious that the established technique has the benefits of being simple, cheap and directly involving the user in the design process. However, in a recent card sorting exercise we uncovered some additional insights and benefits:

Multiple participants per session cuts the testing time and still provides a significant amount of data

We were probably pretty lucky here, but our client was able to schedule four 1 hour sessions with 6-7 people in each session. In a medium size room, we set up a few desks and spaced the participants ‘workspaces’ out so that each participant wasn’t distracted by others. Our moderator and assistant gave instructions and answered any questions. This meant that we only needed 4 hours of a UE Professionals time for the actual testing. When you map this to the valuable insights and direction gained from the research, it was definitely time well spent (obviously excluding final analysis).

Getting the most out of your participants

The actual card sorting exercise is relatively quick, so get the most out of your participants and capitalize on the group setting by including a discussion session after the exercise. Having a group discussion for 15 minutes helped gain more insight into the participant’s grouping and nomenclature choices. In addition to knowing why participants made certain choices, we gained more knowledge about our user’s behaviors and motivations. This is very valuable information that can contribute to other types of processes that fall under the umbrella of user centered design, such as Persona development or Personas for short. Persona Development or User Models are another very insightful usability exercise which I won’t go into right now, but keep for another time.

Including Stakeholders to gain buy-in and grasp complexity

Including a sample of key stakeholders (who are also made up the target audience) in the card sorting exercise made them feel involved in the process and ultimately facilitated in achieving their buy-in. By participating, the stakeholders realized what a complex task it was to create an optimal site structure from such disparate content. Even if their suggestions didn’t get included, they were aware of all the variables and the necessity to compromise.

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