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Card Sorting: Stacking the Deck for Better Navigation

ASSOCIATIONS NOW, May 2010 Community now

Summary: Card sorting during a website redesign can save users' time in the long run.

One complaint I hear regularly about websites—and ASAE & The Center's website specifically—is that they're designed around how the organization is structured. Given that the information architecture is usually completed by internal teams, this makes sense. One way to get input on structuring a site to reflect a a visitor's way of thinking is by collecting input from card sorts.

Card sorts are a way to have website visitors organize and label content. It's useful to have a visitor show you how she'd approach your website, and grouping and labeling are key elements for determining the best navigation for a website. Of course, you're likely to get a variety of different groupings from users, so you'll be looking for overlaps and commonalities while also considering how to help those who used varying  groups and labels.

Originally, card sorts used index cards, with each card representing either a content item or type. Participants would group the cards and label them for an open card sort. The labels represent what the participants would expect to see as navigation buttons, and groups represent the items they'd expect to find under those navigation items. With closed card sorts, navigation labels are provided and participants organize content cards under those predefined labels. Closed card sorting is a good way to test navigation labels and structures determined during an open card sort.

Over time, online tools have emerged to increase the range of input from website visitors. We're using one of these online tools for our redesign process. We had to break our card sort in two separate sorts due to our high volume of content. We spent a lot of time discussing how to best present a usable sort while still collecting meaningful input. Our approach is to present subject-matter content as one sort and our programs, products, and services as another sort to see how users might label each set. We'll then be testing the combined approach in the closed card sort.

You're invited to participate in the entire process. Help us set the navigation for our site that works best for you and experience the card-sorting process at

Amy Hissrich is director of web strategy for ASAE & The Center. Email:

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