Open card sort

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In an open card sort, participants sort your cards into groups that make sense to them, and then label the groups themselves. An open card sort is the equivalent of an open-ended question in a traditional study, in that people can give any answer, and are not confined to one type of response.

An open card sort is helpful when you’re starting to design a new website or starting to improve one you already have. 

Conduct an open card sort to:

  • find out how people understand and conceptualize your information
  • find out where people expect to find information when they land on your website
  • generate ideas for how to structure and label your website information
  • establish if your different user groups think in different ways about your information.

Looking at the city council website redesign as an example, you would run an open card sort to find out how visitors would group items or information, and which labels they would use to describe those groups.

The image below shows a participant partway through the open card sort (with four categories and three labeled, so far):

Other use cases for open card sorts

There are a number of different use cases for conducting open card sorts, but here are a few of the most popular ones:

Validate (or find improvements for) your current website structure
Create an open card sort with your current website items or topics and see if people organize the information in the same way you have structured it. 

Do your participants’ groupings and categories more or less match your current structure? Great! You probably don’t need to make too many changes, or any at all.

Are their groups and categories different to your current structure? This is a sign that you might need to look at adapting your structure, or you might need to create a brand new one, to better match your users’ mental models.

Discover the best way to categorize your blog content
Create an open card sort with your blog tags to find out how your readers would expect to see your blog content categorized, and how they conceptualize what you publish.

The way you categorize your articles internally might not always match how your readers do, so it’s helpful to understand where they’d expect to find your blog posts. 

Get ideas for grouping the products in your online store
Create cards with images of your products, this will show you what products your customers expect to find in the same place on your ecommerce website.

Get ideas on categorizing your help center or intranet
Create an open card sort with the titles of your help articles to find out how your customers expect to see the articles grouped and labeled in your help center. You could also do the same thing for your internal intranet or wiki.