When improving a website or intranet (or any content product), you can focus on findability with an IA review and assessment and with card sorting and task testing. This article focuses on how to improve findability through card sorting.

What is Findability?

On page 4 of Morville’s Ambient Findability, findability is defined as “a) the quality of being locatable or navigable; b) the degree to which a particular object is easy to discover or locate; c) the degree to which a system or environment supports navigation and retrieval.”

It may seem like an abstract definition, but really it’s saying that findability means people can find things!

What is Card Sorting?

Card sorting is as it sounds: a whole bunch of cards get sorted. You gather users based on your personas and ask them to sort through cards. You can have users work in person in groups or on their own. You can also do online card sorting.

Target the Right Personas

The most important point in card sorting is to get users from your target personas. Getting users who are not in your target personas will skew your results. For example, once I did card sorting for an intranet with an electric/utility company. The company was huge with 3000 people all over the province. These people worked in different silos (not using silo in a bad sense!) in the company and had specialized knowledge for that silo. They didn’t particularly need to cross silos to do their work.

When we did the card sorting, the users we had were from a particular silo, but I had cards from all different silos. It was quite difficult for the users to sort the cards given that they didn’t know what they meant! Make sure you pick the right users and the right cards.

Where Do Cards Come from?

It’s important to pick the right cards so you get good results. In an one-hour session, users can sort and label about 30-40 cards. If you’re doing the card sorting online, I wouldn’t add any more cards. It won’t take users an hour, but their attention span is also shorter. Aim for a 10-20 minute exercise.

Don’t underestimate the difficulty of choosing the right cards. In the past, I’ve mixed the granularity of cards as well as mixed concepts with how-tos. I found that users get confused when conceptual cards are mixed with how-to cards. I’ve also mixed cards at different levels of the hierarchy and that has been confusing for users. Another problem I’ve encountered is having cards that were too obscure; users don’t know the meaning without the context.

How to Do Card Sorting?

Donna Maurer has a great post on how to do card sorting. She also has a book through Rosenfeld Media. When I was starting out with card sorting, the post was a great resource.

Getting the Most Out of Card Sorting

Given my past experience and mistakes, it’s best to be very focused with your card sorting goals. You may want users to sort your whole site, but if it’s a big site this can be difficult. Instead you may want to focus on a particular section of the site. You can narrow down the card possibilities by focusing on the persona and the content important to that persona.

Knowing Success

Once you go through the card sorting, you can analyze your results. You’ll get a wide range of card groupings and labels, but some patterns will emerge. You may get some great label ideas. You may get validation on your organization/site map or you might not. After the card sorting is done, you’ll need to review whatever site map you have to account for your results. Make sure you allow time for this in the project schedule.

What to Know More?

If you’d like to know more, you can follow Key Pointe’s Company Page on LinkedIn or you can contact me for a free, one-on-one, 15 minute phone call to get a more solid understanding and direction to more resources.