A Review – Card Sorting


Card Sorting - Donna Spencer


I learnt card sorting via trial and error, lots of practice, reading the occasional blog or article, fine tuning as you go, that was while ago.

Back then Perth was a little isolated, in has only been recently that web based workshops or conferences have been held in Perth that we have had excess face to face with the best of the web.

This is where practical books like Donna Spencer’s Card Sorting can fill the gap.

Now you would think that this book would be a waste of time for someone like me.   Well that’s what I thought too, but I was wrong.

Donna’s book is filled with the shortcuts, pitfalls, and professional enhancements that you can make to your card sort technique.  It’s a lot more than just usual simple chapter on card sorting basics that so many books have.

It’s a short book (162 pages), one you can very easily read on a 5 hour plane flight (which I did).   However it isn’t light on detail. Donna Spencer seems to have crammed the entire card sorting process along with various case studies into this handy book.

The book begins at the best place, giving you an overview of what card sorting is and isn’t and the best places to apply it.   It’s interesting here as it is suggested that card sorting can be applied to all sorts of things not just web sites.  I can contest to this; have card sorts many a collection of topics or information in a effort to find the magical categorisation sequence.

Extract from Card Sorting

The Nuts and Bots on How to Card Sort

Next the book launches right into the practical application on how to run a card sort.  It covers the best method to use, choosing the content, participants, card construction,  and session facilitation.  As well as bucket load of tips and tricks to help you out when your card sort is doing pear shaped.

The most important thing is to listen to the discussion. Make notes of the ways people describe what they are doing.

It’s interesting but this quote reminded me that sometimes you can also learn a lot more additional information, such as user stories and the like from just listening carefully to the participants during a card sort.  Hence a card sort can often product a wealth of information beyond the draft information organization.  Your just have to listen and question.

The Data Analysis of it All

This book also takes the time to step through the entire analysis process of the data you have collected during the sort.   It deals with the exploratory analysis process in detail and the intense drilling down into the organisational scheme people use.

Extract from Card Sorting

Statistical Analysis is also covered, don’t worry you don’t need to be a maths scholar (or Steve Baty) to understand this section.  Card sorting very simply steps through the use of k-means cluster analysis, hierarchical cluster analysis and multidimensional scaling analysis, showing you the outcomes and why you need to use these analysis tools.

Donna rounds the book off with a brilliant summary chapter full of overarching advice.   My favourite is:

Don’t assume anything – think hard about what you have learned from the card sort and its underlying meaning.

Now I think we can apply that to all aspects of user research not just card sorting.

Should You Buy It?

If you’re card sorting guru (like Donna) then maybe this book is not for you.  But if you are a user experience or information management professional and just want to learn or improve your card sorting, then this book is a must have for your bookshelf.

Tags: , , , , ,

Looks like there is no conversation here yet, why not start one.