5 things to tick off before launching a remote card sort

7 min read Alannah

Card sorting is a tried and true research method that has been used by researchers across the globe for decades. It’s a user-centred design technique to help improve your information architecture by understanding how people expect items to be labeled, grouped and organized on your website. Ultimately, the goal of any card sort is to maximize the probability of users being able to find information on your site.

You can run card sorts in person, or remotely using online card sorting tools. Remote card sorting has many benefits. For one, it’s affordable, convenient and easy to set up. It also helps you to better understand peoples’ expectations and how they group information, as well as identifying terminology that could be misunderstood and information that might be difficult to categorize.

When you’re launching a card sort, there are a few things you need to tick off before you invite your participants.

To start with, let’s take a look at some of the types of card sorting, then dive into some helpful tips to consider before you go ahead and launch a remote card sort study.

Different kinds of card sorts

Depending on your needs, you may choose to do an open, closed or hybrid card sort. They differ slightly both in their function and application — here’s how:

  • Open card sort: Participants group cards into categories in a way that make sense to them. They make up their own groups and give these categories a name that they feel accurately describes the content within. It’s a flexible more intuitive option best used to gather naming and labeling ideas.
  • Closed card sort: Participants sort content into pre-defined categories that you set and name. Best used when trying to understand how participants fit content into an existing structure or when you have new content that needs to be added to a website. Also handy for running prioritization activities.
  • Hybrid card sort: This is a mix of the open and closed card sorting methods. You can set predetermined categories, and also allow participants to create their own categories if they can’t find a suitable category for a particular card. A great option if you’re working with a large or complex website where you’re unsure what to name all your pre-defined categories.

Keep in mind that this is card sorting in a very simplified nutshell. For a deeper dive into this research method, check out our Card Sorting 101.

Now, let’s jump into some tips to help you cover all your bases before you launch your remote card sort study.

Tip #1 – Make sure you’re using the right method

Sometimes it can be difficult picking which user research method is the best for the project you’re working on. Before you launch a card sort, spend some time figuring out if a card sort is the best method to use. Is it going to give you the right information you need?

Think back to your goals and what it is you want to find out. Do you want to know how people group your content? Are you trying to fix navigational problems in your current website structure? Or do you want to find out the type of language people use to categorize your content? If you need a bit of help finding out, check out our Intro to UX research guide, which includes useful information on different research methods.

  • Hot tip: Aside from helping to inform how content should be organized on your site, closed card sorting also makes for a great prioritization tool you can use collaboratively with your team.

Tip #2 – Customize your instructions

Customizing your brand’s tone and voice to suit your audience is key — the same goes for your welcome message, instructions and thank you message. These need to fit the needs and level of understanding of your audience. Are your study participants current customers that access your site frequently or are they members of the general public? Are they experienced user researchers or internal staff? Whatever the case may be, ensure your tone and terminology is well considered and tailored for the audience level.

  • Hot tip: Did you know that you can customize your team subdomain in the Optimal Workshop Suite? In the ‘Account’ drop down menu, locate ‘Team settings’ and modify your study URL that will be shared with your participants. By doing so, your link will be specific to your company and brand, plus it looks more professional. Default: i.e https://tlk8zip5.optimalworkshop.com/optimalsort
    Customized: https://companyname.optimalworkshop.com/optimalsort/

Tip #3 – Decide if there are any criteria you may want to segment your data on

You might want to compare similarities and differences in results based on demographics such as age group, job title, location, gender, experience using a product or brand, or frequency of use. For example, you might want to capture responses from women aged 18-25, but would like to segment results based on the city in which they live. Decide in advance what demographic information will be most useful to you during the analysis process. Once defined, be sure to add your requirements as pre- or post-study questions before you launch. Your data can be segmented based on answers to single or multiple choice questions only.

  • Hot tip: Make use of post-study questions to gain additional insights and identify any cards your participants may have found particularly confusing. By including a screenshot of all your cards in the ‘Messages’ section, you can help them recall any labels they struggled to understand.

Tip #4 – Plan how you will get responses

Once you launch your study, you’ll have to find people to actually take part in it! Having defined a proper goal, customized your instructions to fit your audience, and decided on your demographic requirements — you’ll be in a better position to understand where and how to get your study to your participants. For internal participants, email or your main communication channel (for example, Slack) is a no-brainer. You can also ask managers and team leaders to send out an email or chat to their teams in person for an extra push.

For customer groups, utilizing your in-house database or CRM is a good starting point, as is posting on Facebook and Twitter or wherever your customers hang out online. You may even put a targeted ad out on Facebook to hone in on the exact demographic you’re looking for. Alternatively, our participant recruitment service makes it quick and easy for you to access millions of study participants around the world.

  • Hot tip: You can offer a small incentive to encourage participation. An Amazon voucher is always a goodie! If offering the chance to win a prize for completing your study, do ensure that you get their email addresses. You can gather these in a post-study question.

Tip #5 – Preview and test your card sort before sending to participants

The ‘Preview’ button is there for a reason — and if you don’t use it, you should! This button will help you to refine your remote card sort prior to launching. Once you hit ‘Preview’ you’ll see your card sort exactly as your participants will see it. Check and double check your grammar and spelling. Are your instructions clear, customized and error-free? Are your pre- and post-study questions worded right to gain the information you require?

  • Hot tip: Once you’ve previewed your card sort study, test it by sending the shareable link to a small group of people like your colleagues and friends. Encourage feedback on the terminology used, and find out if there are any areas where your sample group got confused or misunderstood the content of the cards or categories. This is a must-do before you launch your study! Just keep in mind that no data is collected while the study is in ‘Preview’ mode.

Further reading:

Check out our information architecture guide. To learn more about best card sorting best practices, check out our 101 guides. Also if you’d like to learn more about card sorting with specific examples and expert advice, we highly recommend Donna Spencer’s book: Card Sorting: Designing Usable Categories.

Got any other tips to use before launching your card sort? Comment below!