Card Sort

Should you do an open or closed or hybrid card sort?

2 minute read time

You are ready to start your card sort.

You have all your card titles ready to go.

And then you are asked what type of card sort you want to run…

You stare at the screen for a minute, taking this in.

Open, closed or hybrid? You’re not sure.

You don’t even know what each one is.

So, how do you choose?

Let’s walk through each option and help you figure out which one will be best based on where you’re at right now.

Is an open card sort right for you?

The open card sort is the most exploratory. You’re opening up your content to be organized in whichever way makes the most sense to your audience.

You’re exploring new categorization, new labels, new everything.

Open card sort with no set categories or groupings

This type of card sort is going to give you data on different approaches to organizing your content.

It’s also going to give you data on different labels for your content.

If you already know the high level organization and labels for your content, this is not the right card sort type for you.

If you aren’t sure if you’ve got the organization and the labels quite right, then this is your test.

This type of test is best if you’re new or starting over in testing your navigation and content organization.

Maybe a closed card sort is best.

The closed card sort is as different from the open card sort as possible. The hybrid is right in the middle.

The closed card sort is going to be a good fit for you, if you have already found the high level structure for your content.

You might be interested in validating the lablels and categorization you've chosen.

Or you might be interested in which category your audience would place each piece of content.

Closed card sort with all categories, labels and general structure set in place.

This type of test is best if you’re farther along in your user experience research of your navigation and information architecture.

Or, maybe hybrid is the one you have been looking for.

If you’ve already run a tree test and identified some categories that are working well and some that aren't, then this test is for you.

A hybrid card sort is one where you put in the categories that you know are working well and then open it up for your audience to choose and name the other categories in a way that makes sense to them.

Hybrid card sort with some set categories but leaves things open for the participant to create their own

This type of test allows you to narrow in on the problem areas of your navigation.

This type of test is typically best when you’re in the middle or later stages of user experience research of your information architecture.

A few things you might need before you get started

Now that you’ve figured out which type of card sort you want to run, there are two quick things to note before you get started.

First, the way you write your card titles will have a huge impact on how actionable the results from your card sort will be.

Here are a few quick tips on naming your card titles so that your card sort is successful.

Second, if you’re going to be running a closed or hybrid card sort, you are going to need to create categories.

These categories are essentially the main navigation.

If you’ve found a main navigation that works well, use what you have on your website right now.

If you know a few that work well, use only those and leave the ones that don’t work well up to your audience to label and categorize.

You are ready now to create a card sort test that will be enormously successful.