Your websites are a crucial part of your marketing campaign. And yet we structure most of our websites around our internal, how our company views the world rather than from the user’s perspective. And if you want users to act on your website,we need to reflect how they’re thinking,what their mindset is.To structure your website around the user’s mental model with an exercise called card sorting.
What is card sorting and why should we use it?
Card sorting is an exercise that you can run with users to better understand their mental model of the world. A mental model is the associations that we make between things. So depending on all kinds of factors,those associations are different. Your culture, your background, your life experience,your gender, all kinds of things affect how we organize information in our head.And we need to understand how your users organize that information because it will dictate how people expect to find that information on your website.And if they can’t find the information easily,they’re going to abandon your website and they’re not going to. So we all have different mental models.For example the staff in your company will end up having a similar mental model to one another because of their shared experience working at the company. And that’s often different from that of the customer.Words that you use and you presume that your customers understand aren’t necessarily as clear to the user as you think they are.Just because you understand doesn’t mean your audience does or doesn’t interpret them in the same way anyway.I can give you an example. Let’s say if I said to you, Sanket is going to the bank.Where is Sanket going? What’s he going to do at the bank? Now you’re probably thinking well maybe he’s going to withdraw some money. Maybe he’s going to get a loan or as someone always inevitably says maybe he’s going to rob the bank.But if you were a fisherman or you did kayaking, you might think he’s going to the river bank. In which case those people’s background, their interest has completely changed their perspective of that word bank.So how we view the world is fundamentally important to the way we understand information. And this is so overlooked in marketing communications.We presume that everybody uses the same jargon,the same terminology and that’s not true.
How do we do card sorting?
So card sorting is a methodology that enables us to begin to understand the user’s mental model and to organize information around a structure that makes sense to them.It involves basically arranging individual cards into piles that make sense to the user.Each card would direct present a page or multiple pages on your site depending on how big your site is.And then essentially what happens if you give them the piles of cards which each represent a page and they organize those into different categories.Now there are two ways of doing card sorting.There’s open card sorting and closed card sorting.With open card sorting the user is being asked to organize the information, those cards,into any buckets that make sense to them.So they can organize those cards in any way that they want.Now as a result you probably only want about 30 cards because if you give people too many cards they get overwhelmed and they find the exercise too difficult and you don’t learn anything.So that’s how open card sorting works.You take each individual card which has got a page name written on it and the user organizes those cards as they want.
The other type of card sorting is called closed card sorting.And in closed card sorting people organize those cards into predefined buckets, into predefined categories.So you’ve decided up from what those containers areand people just put the cards in the associated containers.Now that enables you to give people a lot more carbs cause they don’t have to think too much about the different containers.But it’ll give you an indication if they’re starting to struggle to know where to place a card,it means that maybe your buckets, your top-level sections in your information architecture, are not correct.So the way that people organize those cards into the different buckets enable us to better understand how they structure and organize information.Now you could do that in person with some basically post-it notes and a table.Or there are various online tools that can help do this.There’s a tool called Optimal Sort that has been designed specifically for this job. So you can actually test with large number of people using these online tools.And they don’t even need to be accompanied especially with the closed card sorting because they can just organize things into the boxes without any outside influence.So what that means is you can just send them a link and they can get on with the exercise.
What do we do with the results?
So people have organized all of their contents into various buckets and you’ve now looking at the results from all of these different people and all the different ways they’ve organized the information.What do you do with that?Well to be honest this is the tricky part.There is no magic formula.What you’re doing is you’re looking for common patterns.You’re looking for ways that people are constantly labeling or referring to sections when we’re talking about open card sorting.So how they labeled each of the buckets that they’ve created.What are they called those buckets.That’s really interesting to notice.You’re also paying attention to what content is being put in what buckets.Whether the user has struggled to put some content in buckets at all.But even if you struggle to do that what this exercise will show you is that actually not everybody will organize things in the way you would.So everybody thinks creating information architecture on a website is about organizing content logically.That is not true because everybody has a different interpretation of what logical is.Instead you’ve got to reflect the way users are thinking.
So you’re looking for trends.You’re looking for similar words.You’re noticing that absence of certain words that maybe you would use.Some terminology that the audience might not be using.Now in a tool like Optimal Sort it does provide you with some features that allow you to compare the results.But to be honest I find them fairly confusing and not particularly helpful.You’re much better just focusing in on those trends,those similar words and the terminology that people use.So card sorting is not going to give you a definitive information architecture for your site.However it will challenge some of your preconceptions about how you think your audience thinks.It will help you understand how they see the world.And with closed card sorting it will also provide a framework for testing any information architecture you’re considering.So from those perspectives alone,it’s definitely worth adding into the mixin terms of how you approach your campaign.Especially when thinking about your website.