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How to conduct user research by Joel Marsh

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Chapter 8. Card Sorting

Some types of questions are hard to answer, so it might be better to get a user to show you instead.

What Is Card Sorting?

Not a way to win Blackjack more often. Unfortunately.

Basically, you give each user a set of topics or ideas written on “cards”—maybe types of content or features you’re considering—and ask them to organize the cards into categories that make sense to the user.

Card sorting can literally be a bunch of recipe cards, or you can use an online tool to simulate it. By doing this with many users and then documenting the relationships they create between cards, you will learn which ideas or features are most related in the minds of the users, and it will help you design menus and information architecture. It sounds a bit complex, but I have done this with a whole class of students in 15 minutes, during the class, using online tools. It took about an hour to create cards for an agency’s future site content—before the students arrived—and the students were able to sort them quickly while I ignored them completely, like the amazing teacher that I am. The software did all the work of measuring the patterns in their choices and probably saved me hours of work. Voilá!

Card sorting is good because...

  • Designing big, complex sites like Wal-Mart or eBay can seem overwhelming at the beginning. Card sorting helps you get started.

  • You can discover structure within ...

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