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Card sorting is a technique used in information processing to sort items into groups that people utilizing a system, usually a website, can easily locate. This technique is a relatively simple method of sorting information into various categories because it is done manually by real people using index cards. People are chosen based upon the fact that they represent a typical website user. There are two main types of card sorting, open card sorting and closed card sorting, and they are done based upon the type of site being developed.
The patterns that people choose when sorting cards are known as the mental models of the users. Each person is given a set of cards with titles on them that represent main parts of the website, and they are asked to group the cards in a way that makes sense to each of them. Once the people who have been selected to perform the card sort are finished, the information can be entered into statistical software and analyzed to determine the optimal organization for the site. Individuals chosen for the card sorting process are often representative of the users of the website. The more people an organization chooses to use in the card sorting process, the more likely the results are to be accurate and reflect the thoughts of real users.
Open card sorting is done when participants are given cards that have no existing groups. Each individual sorts the cards into groups that makes sense to him or her, and this method is used most often when a new site is being established. Closed card sorting contains some groups that are already established, and participants are asked to add new cards to the existing categories. This method is used most often when a website is being updated or when new information is being added to it.
Reasons that organizations utilize card sorting vary, but include its simplicity and cost-effectiveness as a technique for organization. Due to the fact that real people are organizing the cards, it is thought to resemble the way that real users would utilize the website. It is also a good starting point for creating or making changes to a website. Problems with the method include that the information is not organized base upon the tasks that real users would be performing on the website, as well as the variance in answers that can be found from person to person.