Card sorting

Card sorting tests help define or evaluate your site’s information architecture, as well as figure out how users think content should be structured and organised.

Card sorting

An introduction to card sorting

Card sorting is a type of user research activity that provides insights into the mental models of your users. It can vastly improve a site’s architecture and shape decisions by understanding how users categorise topics in ways that make sense to them.

Running a card sort involves creating a set of cards that your testers will then be asked to group together in a way that makes the most sense to them. It can tell you a variety of information, such as:<

  • how your users expect content to be grouped together as well as labelling
  • what the most logical order of content is for your audience
  • whether your current site architecture is difficult to understand or follow.

You can run two types of card sorting testing:

  • Open card sorting – where testers name the categories for the cards they sort themselves.
  • Closed card sorting – where categories are already decided, with users only needing to sort the cards they’re given.


For sites that already have an established information hierarchy, closed card sorting would be a better option to evaluate what you already have. If you’re at an earlier stage in process or are open to changing your site, open card sorting could uncover ideas you might not have previously considered.

When to use card sorting



To ensure you’re labelling content in an easy to understand way



When you want to understand how users expect information to be grouped

Site structure

Site structure

If you want to define a clear site architecture



When you’re deciding what content to put on a page

How to run a card sorting test


Define test objectives

It’s important to be clear on the overall goals of your card sorting test so that you can produces accurate, useful results. Do you want to completely tailor your site design around what your users want? Or are you assessing the success of a proposed site architecture?

Create the card sort

Now it’s time to decide whether you want to conduct an open or closed card sorting test. You’ll need to create your cards, and possibly categories if you've chosen closed card sorting. You shouldn’t have more than 60 cards to avoid overwhelming your testers.

Launch your test

The UserQ platform makes it easy to create your card sort, with the option to upload a .csv file or manually input your cards to build your test. Plus, once you’re ready to test, we’ll even find the perfect panel of testers for you based on your audience.

Analysing the results

Open card sorting results preview

Depending on whether you’ve run an open or closed card sort, the way you analyse your data will vary slightly. Both methods will allow you to gather insights to inform your site’s navigation design and gain a deeper understanding of your user’s mindset – but there are a few differences to consider.


For open card sorting, you have an opportunity to compare not only the way testers have categorised your cards, but the names they’ve given your categories too. For example, you might find a better name for a section or page by looking at the titles testers give their categories.


Closed card sorting offers a great opportunity to identify any points of confusion or misleading labels for your categories, as well as determine how necessary each of your categories are. For example, if a particular category isn’t used very much, it might be that others offer enough overlap with it to render it useless.