Card Sorting

Card Sorting in User Experience Research: Optimizing Information Architecture and Navigation

Card sorting is a UX research method used to understand how users categorize information and perceive the organization of content within a digital interface. By engaging users in sorting and grouping content cards based on their mental models, designers can refine information architecture, improve navigation, and enhance overall user experience.

What is Card Sorting?

Card sorting involves presenting users with a set of content items or topics (typically represented on cards) and asking them to organize these cards into groups that make sense to them. Participants may also label these groups and provide insights into their thought process, preferences, and expectations regarding the organization of information.

Types of Card Sorting

  1. Open Card Sorting: Participants categorize cards into groups and label each group based on their understanding and organization preferences without predefined categories.
  2. Closed Card Sorting: Users categorize cards into predefined groups or categories provided by the researcher or designer, offering insights into how well the existing structure aligns with user expectations.

Benefits of Card Sorting

  1. User-Centric Design: Gains insights into users’ mental models and preferences, allowing designers to create information architectures that align with user expectations.
  2. Improved Navigation: Optimizes navigation paths and menu structures by understanding how users categorize and prioritize content.
  3. Content Organization: Helps organize content and features logically, reducing cognitive load and enhancing usability.
  4. Validation of Information Architecture: Validates or refines existing information architecture based on empirical data and user input.

Steps in Conducting Card Sorting

  1. Define Objectives: Determine what aspects of the interface’s information architecture you want to evaluate or improve.
  2. Prepare Card Sets: Create cards representing content items or topics that users will sort and categorize.
  3. Recruit Participants: Select a diverse group of participants who represent your target users or stakeholders.
  4. Facilitate Sorting Sessions: Provide instructions, observe participants as they sort cards, and encourage them to think aloud to understand their reasoning.
  5. Analyze Results: Compile and analyze the sorting data to identify patterns, groupings, and insights into user expectations.

Best Practices for Card Sorting

  1. Clear Instructions: Provide clear instructions and examples to guide participants through the sorting process effectively.
  2. Mix of Participants: Include participants with varying levels of familiarity with the content to capture diverse perspectives.
  3. Iterative Process: Conduct multiple rounds of card sorting to refine insights and validate findings across different user groups.
  4. Combine with Other Methods: Supplement card sorting with usability testing, user interviews, and analytics to gain comprehensive insights into user behavior and preferences.

Considerations in Card Sorting

  1. Contextual Relevance: Ensure the sorting exercise reflects real-world scenarios and tasks that users typically encounter.
  2. Data Interpretation: Interpret results with caution, considering qualitative insights alongside quantitative data to inform design decisions.
  3. Iterative Design: Use card sorting as an iterative process to continually refine and improve the information architecture based on user feedback and evolving needs.


Card sorting is a valuable UX research method for understanding user mental models, preferences, and expectations regarding information organization and navigation. By engaging users in sorting and categorizing content cards, designers can optimize information architecture, improve usability, and create intuitive digital experiences that resonate with users’ needs and behaviors.

Ondrej Zoricak
Ondrej Zoricak