Open vs. Closed Card Sorting

Card sorting is an exercise in which a person takes a set of concepts or topics and divides them up into groups. It’s a great way to get insights into how users might expect content to be organized on a site. If you’re planning a card sort study, you’ll need to decide whether to do an open or closed card sort.

This choice has a big effect on what you’ll learn from this study and an open card sort. Each study participant gets the same cards, but they make up their own unique categories. For example, in a card sort about food, one user might make a category called fruit and put everything fruit related into that group. On the other hand, if you do a closed card sort study, you’ll provide participants with both a list of concepts and also a list of categories. Then users distribute the cards into each of your suggested categories, open and close card sorting or methods that complement each other. So you could start with an open card sort to discover all the possible groups that might make sense to your audience. Then, after you’ve decided which categories you actually want to use, do a closed card sort study to confirm if people share the same belief about what belongs in each group. But in many cases, if you want to make sure that people understand your menus at different research technique called a tree test is even better than a closed card sort because a tree test is more similar to what it’s like to actually use the menu and a closed card sort. People can see the full list of all cards as they decide which item goes in which category. But in the real world, people can only see the menu and they have to guess what’s contained underneath each menu category.

A tree test mimics this experience by showing users just the menu choices and asking them to pick which choice they expect to contain a certain topic. So this can help ensure that people will easily find content using your proposed categories and labels.

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