Logo for usabiliTEST Card Sorting tool

Card Sorting online made easy (and affordable*)

What is Card Sorting?

Logo for usabiliTEST Card Sorting toolCard sorting is a technique often used in usability testing and Information Architecture (IA). This user research involves participants using logic while sorting content or “cards” into categories or groups that make sense to them, given the information they are provided with. Very often this method is used in ux research for projects that help design teams to build or improve user interface (UI), information flow or user experience overall.

New web portal has a lot of links and the company decides to do some user testing in order to collect data that will help them arrange those links in such a way that it will be easier for consumers to find what they are looking for.

You’ve got options, when it comes to Card Sorting tools

Typically, when you first hear about research method only two test types are mentioned: Open and Closed. At usabiliTEST we developed the third one — Hybrid, which is a combination of the first two. So, let’s take a closer look at what this means, how these types of card sorting are different from each other, and which are the best digital card sorting tools for your business needs.

Closed Card Sort
Diagram of Closed Card Sort

Participants are provided with a few category names and a set of cards. Then they place the value cards into these fixed categories. The two demo links below provide examples of closed card sorting, one of which uses only text cards and the other images.

Open Card Sort
Diagram of Open Card Sort

Participants sort index cards with some items written on them into logical groups. Once they create these groupings they must label them. Please see demo button below for Open Card Sorting example.

Hybrid Card Sort
Diagram of Hybrid Card Sort

This is a combination of both Closed and Open Card Sorts. Test starts as a Closed Sort, where you provide predefined categories, however if participants do not find an appropriate category among those they were given, they can create and name their own and place their cards there.

Screenshot of online closed card sorting exercise
Screenshot of closed card sorting exercise page.

Get it done in 3 simple steps

Please note that card sorting exercises can be conducted in person or remotely. There are benefits to both approaches however, since usabiliTEST's Card Sorting software is web-based, this article is written with remote tools in mind.

  1. Create Test

    It only takes a few minutes to launch your own usability test. There's lots of flexibility in the setup process. So you can create either simple or complex tests — it all depends on your project's needs.

  2. Invite Participants

    Just because you built a test doesn't mean they will come. Furthermore, your test is worthless without real users and while the number of participants is often depends on your specific needs, it is said that a gorup of some 30 participants is good enough to be able to overcome individual mental model bias. While you can tweet or email your test page's link, how do you know if they participated in your test? How do you know if they even opened your email containing the test?

    Out platform has been developed to assist you with all of this. Simply add your contacts into your address book and fire up the desired emails with a single click. Afterwards, sit back, relax, and let our system keeps track of your test responses for you. As for those slow responses, we'll follow-up with a gentle reminder.

    If your target audience is your office, you won't have to bother your colleagues about whether they have taken your test. You will already know if they have.
  3. Get Results

    Analyzing test results is where the fun begins. This could also be the longest part of any project. Imagine spending a lengthy amount of time tabulating all your numbers, when suddenly come late submissions…

    There's no need to worry about this scenario when you use usabiliTEST built-in analytic tools. All computations are done immediately and in real time. With just a click of a button, you can transform your raw numbers into percentages. These percentages can either be plotted on a graph or grouped into logical groupings. If you prefer to use other third-party statistical software, you can easily export all your data.

Screenshot of test data groupped by percentages
Screenshot of test data groupped by percentages.

Test Data

usabiliTEST provides analysis tools that allow you to manipulate your test results on the fly:

  • Display raw numbers
  • Convert to percentages
  • Group percentages
  • Create a distance matrix
  • Plot multidimensional scaling (MDS) analysis of the distance matrix
  • Create an interactive dendrogram, which represents Hierarchical Cluster Analysis
Screenshot of dendrogram view of test data
Screenshot of dendrogram view of test data.
The list above may sound like a bunch of fancy terms, so the best way to learn about these tools is with our no obligation trial. Give a free card sorting test a good whirl and see all the features in action.


Is Card Sorting a test?

Yes and no. While card sorting doesn't involve testing participants' cognitive abilities, it is a test designed to analyze Information Architecture. Instead of having right or wrong answers like some tests do, card sorting provides insights into available options based on the approach of each individual participant.

How can I use this tool?

With results obtained through a use of online card sorting sessions you can build your website’s structure. In addition, you’re more certain to organize information on your site in a logical manner for the sake of your users. For example, this technique is often used to redesign website navigation and menus.

How can usabiliTEST help me with card sorting?

All our tools have built-in data analytics that save you time by providing instant results. You can view your test data as raw numbers, percentages, or distance matrix. Charting features allow you to visualize it as either a multi-dimensional scaling (MDS) plot or a dendrogram. You also have the option of exporting your data in multiple formats so it can be used with your choice of tools.

Why is it called Card Sorting?

This method was developed before we used computers for usability testing. Originally, a person conducting Card Sorting exercise would use paper index cards and write terms or items on each of them. Then they would ask participants to sort these “cards” into logical groups. For example, “car” and “bus” could go into a group called “land” while “ship” and “boat” could be placed into a group called “water”.

Are there any free card sorting tools?

As far as we are aware there is only one free card sorting tool however it is not online but rather requires download and it installation on an Apple computer. This works well if you are conducting card sorting activity in a lab setting and can have your participants come to you, however if you rather not share your personal computer with multiple users or your potential participants are located elsewhere you should consider an online-based tool.
More at: FAQ #card-sorting

Blog articles

Open vs. Closed vs. Hybrid Card Sorting: When to Use Each Test Type

Helping you better understand user expectation, understand the various types of card sorting and when to use each test type.

Card Sorting in 5 simple steps [infographic]

This inforgaphic illustrates in 5 simple steps the simplicity of conducting Card Sorting and the benefits of such research.

* It doesn't matter if you’re a web designer, a student or a seasoned UX professional, usabiliTEST can help you achieve your goals at a fraction of the price you'd pay other providers.

And why is this? Because we're on a mission to change the world through improving usability and in the process of doing this, we don't want the cost to get in the way of those who can help us reach this goal.