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Card Sorting

Old heritage from cognitiv psychology (1946), card sorting is used by information architects and UX to gather insights from users. Moreover, it’s a participatory activity aiming to gain an understanding of how users understand and model information (Maurer et al., 2004). We use card sorting in ergonomics where a group of users (novices or experts) of a product accompanied  the classification of terms. 

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1 - 5


3-4 hours


60 min

Difficulty Level


Card Sorting Illustration


This method is used to draw out underlying mental models (Nielsen et al., 1995; Rosenfeld et al., 2002) that will later aid in the design or validation of an information architecture or site navigation.


In theory, it is one of the less expensive, user-centered design methods available. You are going to identify trends such as: - Do the users want to see the information grouped by subject, process, business group, or information type? - How similar are the needs of the different user groups? - How different are their needs? - How many potential main categories are there? (typically relates to navigation) - What should those groups be called? (Maurer et al., 2004) Bonus gift : you’re gonna gather a lot of terminologies from the users

Your step by step guide to run the method

Before Starting


  • Name a set of topics 
  • Organize those topics in groups 
  • Name the groups

Tips : The set should include 40–80 items that represent the main content on the site. Write each topic on an individual index card and Avoid topics that contain the same words;  participants will tend to group those cards together. 


STEP 1: Introduce your cards to users (10 MIN)

  • Shuffle the cards and give them to the participant.  
  • Ask the user to look at the cards one at a time and place cards that belong together into piles. Some piles can be big, others small.  
  • If the participant isn’t sure about a card, or doesn’t know what it means, it’s ok to leave it off to the side. It’s better to have a set of “unknown” or “unsure” cards than to randomly group cards.

Please note: 

  • There is no preset number for the piles 
  • It’s OK to change their mind

STEP 2: Ask them to name the groups (10 MIN)

Give the users blank cards and ask them to write donw a name for each group they createdIt reveals the mental model of the user.  Note that you should not expect the participant to create effective labels. 

Tip: It’s important to do this after all the groups are created, so the user doesn’t lock him/herself. You can ask users to think out loud when they perform the sorting. 


STEP 3: Debrief the model with the users

Ask users to explain the rationale behind the groups they created :  

  • Were any items especially easy or difficult to place? 
  • Did any items seem to belong in two or more groups? 
  • What thoughts do you have about the items left unsorted? 
  • Ask the user for more-practical group sizes, but only after the debrief 

STEP 4: Analyse your results

You gonna search for common groups, category names or themes, and for items that were frequently paired togetherSome items were frequently left to the side? Determine it’s because the labels weren’t clear or the content seemed unrelated to the rest. You have to combine the patterns with the qualitative insights from the debrief. You can also check out on Interaction Design Foundation  website for analyzing methods. 

A real template / drawning that can help you 


You can use that template  to create  cards. You just have to cut by following lines . 

A real template that can help you

Pro tips to run this template

You should definitely give some virgin cards, double cards, maybe colors sticks and markers to your users. Maybe the workshop will reveal some funtionality missing but also that you need to have a functionality  acces in two categories.  


- Table or wall
- Markers
- Sticky notes or paper pieces

Who should be involved

- Users
- UX researcher
- Product Owner


Card sorting is used from years now and been appropriate to many purpose. You can use it in different ways like open: all your card are blanck and the users create the items during the session or reverse: you create groups and labels and you let them deconstruct your model to fits there needs. You can also do card sorting online or use automatized analyse tools.
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