Closed card sort

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In a closed card sort, you give people groups to sort the cards into. This time, instead of trying to find out how people conceptualize your information, you want to know where people think information belongs within your conceptual framework. 

Conduct a closed card sort to:

  • find out if people agree on where your information is best placed within existing categories
  • pinpoint unclear or misleading category labels based on mixed results and fix them
  • reduce the number of categories you have based on which categories are ignored the most.

Using the city council website as an example, we created a closed card sort to find out if people understood the category labels and agreed on which topics or items belonged where.

The image below is what participants see when they first get into the closed card sort:

They will then move the cards into the categories they think the cards belong in. Below is an image of someone partway through the card sort: 

Some researchers have found it useful to add an ‘I’m not sure’ category to capture cards with labels that confuse participants. We’d caution against doing this in all cases as how audiences respond can vary. Some less-engaged audiences may use this as a means to under-think their card sort response. You may be better off employing a hybrid card sort where people are given a full set of categories, but can make an ‘I’m not sure’ category if they need to. (see below for further details.) 

Other use cases for closed card sorts

There are so many ways you can use closed card sorts, here are a few use cases to get you thinking about how they could be useful for you:

Find out what content people find most valuable on your site or app
Create cards with topics from your homepage or your search filters, like this restaurant review app, and create categories like ‘Very important’ and ‘Not important’ to find out what people most want to access when they arrive on your site.

Discover how people view your company and its values
Create cards with company values adjectives and set categories like “Our company is” and “Our company is not” to find out how your customers and clients perceive you, and compare it with the data you gather from staff and colleagues.

Get fast feedback on your designs
Create cards with the different versions of a design you’re working on, and ask people to sort them into categories like ‘My favorite design’ and ‘My least favorite design’.

We have even seen our customers use closed card sorts to decide whether photographs or illustrations on cards ‘fit’ the new corporate identity. Respondents drag pictures to groups titled ‘fits  new brand’ ‘doesn’t fit new brand’.

And here are some more ideas…

  • Simplify the content on your landing pages: Get participants to sort topics on your homepage into categories based on how often they use them – at least once a day, once a week, never, etc.
  • Validate what you should work on next: Customers are usually very willing to give feedback on what sort of products or features they want to see. Give them cards based on new features and ask them to group them by “I want this!” to “This isn’t useful”.
  • Find out what actions people take, when: Perhaps you want to sort content according to the time of year they’d do things. You could find out when people are more likely to take vacations, do their taxes, or make big purchases by getting them to group cards into monthly categories.