Fictional Card Sort

Lets use the following terms for a simple card sort example.

  • apple
  • banana
  • beans
  • carrot
  • celery
  • corn
  • cow
  • orange
  • peach
  • shoe

Each of these terms will be written on a different index card and will be given to the people who are participating in the card sort. You can than ask people to organize the items into different categories. After people are finished organization the content into categories it is time to ask them how they would name each category. At this point you will want to give the participants some blank index cards and ask them to write down the name of each category on one of the index cards.

Using the items listed above a group of people might organize the terms into the following categories.

Three rows of index cards.


  • Corn
  • Celery
  • Carrot
  • Beans


  • Peach
  • Orange
  • Banana
  • Apple


  • Cow
  • Shoe

After the index cards have been arranged into different categories you will have the opportunity to talk with the participants about why they put items into certain groups. This is your opportunity to find out several different things from why things were grouped together in a certain way to understanding why a term was confusing. In talking to participants you may find that you need to rename or remove certain words to make it easier for a person to locate the information that they would be searching for in a website.

Card Sort

We keep mentioning the phrase card sort, but what exactly does it mean. A card sort is a way that allows you to understand how people organize certain items together into categories. A grocery store would be one example of how items get organized. Regardless of what grocery store you walk into the items in that store will be grouped together in a certain way. For example, fruits and vegetables will be in one location of the store and milk and dairy products will be located together. Whether you go into a Krogers, Price Chopper, Farmer Jack etc. the way they group items will be very similar. By grouping items together in a certain way makes it easier for a person to locate and find the items that they need. No matter where you live in the country the layout of a grocery store will be very similar to you whether you live in California or Main.


The advantage of grouping similar items together is useful for both a store and the consumer. This application also applies to websites because it gives people a sense of familiarity and helps them to locate the item they are looking for. In a grocery store this helps people because they get accustomed to seeing certain types of food grouped together. Wallmart has a slightly different take on the wording that they use on signs, but by grouping similar food items together like other stores helps people find what they need. For example, milk and dairy products appear in one location of the store and right next to them are frozen foods. This helps people because all of the products that require reregistration or need to be frozen are located in one location making it easier for a person to locate these type of products. It is also helps the store create a more officiant layout allowing all of the refrigeration and electrical components located in one location. To learn more about why people use the internet please read the post Part III Kick Off Meeting.

Getting Ready for the Card Sort

Now that we have an understanding of the importance of a card sort lets briefly talk about what you need to do to get ready to conduct one. The first element is to come up with a list of words and short phrases that represent the content that would appear in a website. For example, phone number, address, and email address of the organization. When creating this list of items you may notice that you may have written down some words that really mean the same thing. If you notice this happening you have two different choices to make (neither one is right or wrong). First you can keep the redundant words or second you can eliminate the words that are similar to each other. The advantage of using all of the words is that this will give you the opportunity to ask people during the card sort which word will be the most recognizable and easy to understand. The disadvantage is that it has the potential of confusing the participants and will make the card sort take longer.

After creating a list of items that represent your organization it is time to get a stack of index cards. Each word or phrase that you have come up with will be written on a separate index card. We have come up with 63 words and phrases for the card sort that we will be doing in a few weeks. The only reason for mentioning this number is that the librarians here at the Crumb Library are always talking about numbers (this number is for all of you who like numbers). For example, this book has been circulated 10 times in the last three years or the library contains 30, 000 books. There is really know set number of index cards that you should have or not have. They are a representation of the information and things that people are looking for as it relates to your organization.

Once you have gotten your index cards ready you need to recruit people to participate, which is the most difficult part of the process. If you have been reading along you have noticed that we are having difficulty finding people who want to participate in the card sort. If you would be interested in participating please conduct me or someone in the libraries. When looking for people to participate you want to find people who represent your target audience. For more information about the target audience for the SUNY Potsdam College Libraries please read through the Guidelines webpage. You do not want to ask people who are in your organization to participate in the card sort because they already are familiar with the words that you have written down on the index cards.

Conducting a Card Sort

After getting ready for the card sort and soliciting volunteers to the best of your ability it is now time to actually do one. When meeting with a group it is usually helpful to give them a brief overview of the card sort and thank them for participating. A description of the card sort could be something like “Today we will be doing a card sort which is taking a list of words written down on index cards and organizing them into categories.” It is helpful to write down some words on index cards that are not related to your organization and demonstrate what you are asking people to do. After a brief demonstration and explanation you will want to give the participants the stack of index cards that you have written on and ask them to organize them into logical categories. At this point in time you will want to let everyone know that there maybe some words that they do not know or that do not fit into a group. You can ask them to set aside these index cards that have words on them that they do not understand.

After giving the participants the index cards it is probably a good idea to leave the room, so that you do not influence any of the decisions that people will make. I will say something like “I will come back in about 25 minutes and see how you are doing”. As stated earlier this is your opportunity to get an unbiased opinion from the target audience on how they would organize the words that they where given. After coming back to see how everyone is going I will ask the group still needs more time to finish or if they are done. If they are finished, I will give them some blank index cards and ask them to write down the word that best describes each category of words that came up with.

This is also a great chance to ask the participants questions that will help you to understand why they have categorized the words together the way they have and find out what words did not make sense to them. One thing that is very important during the process is to keep an open mind and listen to what people have to say (let them tell you why they made the decisions that they did). When we conduct a card sort we will be doing it at three times with three different groups of people. This is important because it will allow us to see how different groups of people categorize the words that we have written down. It will also show certain trends on how people organize the information that the libraries makes available to people. We may learn that nobody knows that “Credo Reference” is an electronic reference tool. By learning how the target audience categorizes words together will help us develop a website that makes it easy for people to located the information they need. The college libraries website will be created for our target audience and not librarians.

Calendar Update

It has been a few weeks since anyone has made a post on the blog. We are still working on developing a new website; However, things have come up that have pushed back the card sort and development of the information architecture for the new website. The card sort has been rescheduled during the month of April because of my illness last week.

The card sort will take place at the following dates and times:

Date: Tuesday, April 5, 2011
Time: 7 p.m. to 8 p.m.
Location: Crumb Library Room 215

Date: Wednesday, April 6, 2011
Time: 2:30 p.m. to 3:30 p.m.
Location: Crumb Library Room 215

Date: Thursday, April 7, 2011
Time: 10 a.m. to 11 a.m.
Location: Crumb Library Room 215

With rescheduling the card sort the creation of the information architecture and sketching are going to start later during the semester. After conducting the card sort during the first week of April we will take what we have learned from talking to people to help develop the information architecture. The goal is to have finished testing the organization of the content that will appear in the new website by the last week of April.

In Jenica’s previous post we are still soliciting volunteers that would be interested in participating in a card sort. If you are interested in participating please contact me or someone else in the library. As a participant you will receive a gift certificate for a free drink at Minerva’s Cafe.

For more information regarding the updates to when items will be taking place please visit the Calendar web page.