Do you create web content? Or websites? For your own site? For your intranet? For external clients?
Many of us who either create content or redesign websites, web apps, intranets, etc. have to decide or help our clients decide how to organize the content (otherwise know as information architecture). One of the best ways to classify your content into meaningful groupings that you will use on your site is through card-sorting.
So, what is card sorting?
Card-sorting is pretty much just what it sounds like: you write down all the high level topics you would like to see in your site (or have in it already) on 3×5 cards. Or prepare cards on your computer (be sure to have some blanks for the sorting group). You can even run card sorts online (WebSort or OptimalSort are two online sites), though you will lose the visual and verbal cues you would have when interacting with your sorters.
Open and Closed card sorting
I have participated in both an Open and a Closed card-sorting exercises. Both experiences helped me to understand the process before running a card sort myself. I recommend you take part in a card sort or two as a participant if at all possible, before holding one yourself so that you’ll better understand the process.
In a Closed sorting, you ask people to place their cards into already Named piles. In an Open sorting, you will simply ask people to make piles of cards, and afterwards, you will discuss how to classify (name) them together.
Informal card sorting
I’ve also participated in a very informal sorting exercise, where department heads were asked to name all the types of content they wanted on the site, particularly from their own department.
As they responded, topics were written on stickies, which were immediately affixed to a white board, in piles. The piles were arranged and rearranged into groups, and the category names were eventually written on the board. The participants could immediately agree or disagree with the organization of the site, and the design team had an agreed-upon architecture within a couple of hours.
Would you like to know more?
For a great description of of the steps involved in running a Card Sorting, see: Play Your Cards Right: Run Your First Card Sort. Anyone for a game of cards? is another interesting article on card sorting. As is: All about Card Sorting.