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An international peer-reviewed journal

Card Sorting: Current Practices and Beyond

Jed Wood and Larry Wood

Journal of Usability Studies, Volume 4, Issue 1, November 2008, pp. 1-6

Article Contents


History and Assumptions

Card sorting was originally developed by psychologists as a method to the study of how people organize and categorize their knowledge. As the name implies, the method originally consisted of researchers writing labels representing concepts (either abstract or concrete) on cards, and then asking participants to sort (categorize) the cards into piles that were similar in some way. After sorting the cards into piles, the participants were then asked to give the piles a name or phrase that would indicate what the concepts in a particular pile had in common.

In the world of information technology, information architects and developers of desktop and Web-based software applications are faced with the problem of organizing information items, features, and functions to make it easier for users to find them. Card sorting can be an effective means of discovering the optimal organization of information for potential users' viewpoint.

Unfortunately, the development and practice of card sorting in information technology has been driven mostly by opinion and anecdotal experience, with little influence from systematic research. As a result, many of the decisions faced by developers in conducting a card sort study are based on analogy to seemingly similar arenas (e.g., survey administration) and situational circumstances. As we point out in the following sections, this assumption is often questionable.

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