In a Card Sort session, users help to design better understand the relationship of elements in our product or in their processes. This research task is focused on developing a strong sense of the information architecture.


Card Sort tasks involve writing out the names of elements or processes on notecards. Participants will then categorize and organizing the cards. Card Sorts can be conducted in a couple of different ways:

Closed Sort

Where users are expected to place a specific set of cards inside predefined groups. The researcher will define all of the groups.

Open Sort

When users are expected to both name and create groups and organize the cards into those groups.

Hybrid Sort

Where users are expected to place a specific set of cards inside predefined groups or create new ones on their own.

Blank Cards

Depending on the situation, you may want to let your users define additional cards for sorting. Having blank cards around liets you do just that.

Analog Card Sort

You can either run a Card Sort using a long table and index cards in a conference room or via a digital tool. In an Analog sort, write each element clearly on an index card and shuffle into a pile.

  • Pro Tip: When conducting a Card Sort, it’s a good idea to have a few spare cards available to allow users to add elements or processes that you have missed.

Prepare to record this session. In a one camera setup, place a tripod behind the participant, pointed at the table. If you have a second camera, place the other camera across from the participant so that you can capture facial expressions better. Use a phone app based clapper tool to align the recordings. Be sure to double check video and audio levels prior to a session start.

Encourage users to walk you through why they are categorizing items into each category. Ask follow up questions about further relationships if they feel a bit unsure about where to categorize an item. They should order cards in each group by order of priority if these kinds of levels apply.

At the end of the task, take a photo of the position of cards. (Separately from the video.) To review, retype results into an excel spreadsheet and review commonalities.

Digital Card Sort

If you are going to an environment where setting up cameras or using physical cards is not possible, there are digital methods of running a card sort. Digital card sorts also make reviewing the card sorts much easier, as each participant can simply be a sheet inside the Excel workbook. Instead of needing multiple cameras, you can use the screen recording feature inside QuickTime Player and at the same time, can record facial expressions via a separate QuickTime Movie recording.

If this is a simple session with few cards and categories or a one-off list to rank order, an Excel spreadsheet can suffice. Setup the first column as the card stack and have them grouped into columns as they go. If you are planning on using multiple participants, I recommend setting up a survey on OptimalSort. They will help you run the analytics after the fact.