Hackernoon logoDifferent Ways to Use Card Sorting by@UXtweak

Different Ways to Use Card Sorting

The ancient Greeks are credited with the early development of categories, with Aristotle providing the foundations for the categorization scheme that we use today for plants and animals. Since then, card sorting has developed into a sophisticated multi-purpose method that is used in many different fields today. It helps designers to understand the users’ ‘mental models’ and gather insight into how users would group content to perform common tasks. Card sorting is also used in the means of education to let students organize and test their knowledge about a topic in an engaging way. It is also one of the techniques counselors use to help clients clarify their skills.
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Card sorting isn't only useful as a method for discovering the optimal organization of information on a site. The ancient Greeks are credited with the early development of categories, with Aristotle providing the foundations for the categorization scheme that we use today for plants and animals (Interaction Design Foundation). 

Since then, card sorting has developed into a sophisticated multi-purpose method that is used in many different fields today, which we will discuss in this article.

Card sorting (as we know it in the UX field) is a quick, inexpensive, and reliable usability method for designing and evaluating the information architecture (IA) of a site. It helps designers to understand the users’ “mental models” and gather insight into how users would group content to perform common tasks. 

Card sorting as an educational method

Card sort in the means of education is designed to let students organize and test their knowledge about a topic in an engaging way. When reviewing the study material in the classroom, it is especially useful when students are working on a problem in pairs or groups. This helps them to build communication, critical thinking, and problem-solving skills, on top of deepening their knowledge about a topic. Moreover, it allows students to tutor and help one another. Besides reviewing study materials, card sorting may also be used instead of giving traditional exams.

There are a few different ways how to use card sort in the classroom:

  • Problems with answers 
  • Reviews for vocabulary
  • Matchups
  • Sorting and classifying

Example of vocabulary review - match all the synonyms together

Try it yourself here to test your vocabulary and see how it works! :)

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Example of sorting and classifying - review the differences between animal and plant cells

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Card sorting in personal development

Knowing what people value most in their work, relationships, and other commitments makes it easier for them to respond to opportunities and conflicts with integrity. Card sorting is a great way to reflect upon what is most important to everyone personally. It is also one of the techniques counselors use to help clients clarify their skills and occupational interests.

Example of clarifying values with card sorting

When thinking about personal values, people often tend to identify ones that are too large in nature, like health, family, friends. Although they are extremely valuable, they are difficult to understand and apply. Sorting cards helps to understand what other values underpin those global, large values.

Steps to clarifying values with card sorting

  1. Create around 30 value cards like belonging, trust, risk, compassion, creativity, challenge,...
  2. Choose one large value like family
  3. Sort the value cards into two piles: 'more important' and 'less important', in the context of  the chosen large value (family)
  4. Take the values you identified as 'more important' and repeat the process of sorting them into two piles again: 'more important' and 'less important', and repeat this process until you end up with 6 final values
  5. Create a pyramid, with the 3 most important foundation values at the bottom and the less important values at the top in the context of family
  6. Reason the choice of your cards, as well as their position within the pyramid

You will end up with a strong understanding and explanation of the core values that underpin the larger value (family in this example) and make it easier for you to respond to opportunities and conflicts when they arise.

Watch the value cards tutorial:

Card sorting may be also used in a similar way when identifying personal skills, which helps clarify what sort of work might be a good fit for someone, as well as marketing one's abilities on a job interview.

Card sorting as a tool for gathering feedback

Card sort is also a helpful tool when gathering feedback from employees, colleagues, students, etc. It can be easily set up, and send out to all your respondents within a matter of minutes. 

For example, it can be used to gather feedback from employees, where they categorize the adopted COVID-19 measures based on their preference into categories: 'I don't mind', 'Unpleasant', 'Very unpleasant'. 

Card sorting can be used in a similar way to let employees evaluate the company benefits - which ones they like, which ones they dislike, and towards which ones they're indifferent.

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Card sorting in psychology

Card sorting tests also have a long tradition in psychology. For example, the now-famous Wisconsin Card Sorting Test, which was published in 1948, is used to assess patients' level of brain damage to the prefrontal cortex. 

In the Wisconsin Card Sorting Test, people have to classify cards according to different criteria. There are different ways to classify each card, for example, according to the color of their symbols, the shape of the symbols, or the number of the shapes on each card, and the only feedback is whether the classification is correct or not. Thanks to this feedback, the individual has to find out what is the correct criteria to classify the cards. The classification rule changes once the participant has figured out the rule. This serves to measure how well people can adapt to the changing rules.

Watch the Wisconsin Card Sorting Test:

You reached the end of our list of possible and unusual ways to use card sorting. Have you ever used card sorting in any non-traditional way, or do you know any other interesting uses of card sorting that we did not mention? We want to hear from you, let us know!

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