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By Donna Spencer

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And how about the “one of these things is not like the others” quandary? What exactly should you do when one of a group of terms—let’s say headings for a menu—doesn’t fit well with the others? How Does Card Sorting Relate to Organizational Challenges? Card sorting can help you learn what classification schemes exist for a set of information, whether people think in similar ways, and how context changes the way they describe groups. It won’t tell you which term is best, but it might help you get a sense of how—and when—different terms are used, and which are most common.

You actually don’t know which will be best. By providing an external perspective, card sorting can help you decide which organizational scheme is likely to be useful for most people, most of the time. The most effective use of card sorting is in its social benefits. Even where I might not find card sorting “effective,” I might use it just as an excuse for an engaging activity where a group of people need to learn to work together and focus on the details of a universe of information. 0 A Word of Caution Card sorting has come under criticism from practitioners who find the technique doesn’t give them the results they expected, and from social researchers who think practitioners are being sloppy in their application of the technique.

As with any other tool or technique, it’s important to use card sorting for the right reasons, at the right time in the project, and to analyze the results in combination with other inputs. Complementary User Research Techniques Card sorting is one of a family of user research techniques designed to give you insight into how people think. 0 But why would you care how people think anyway? No reason—unless you want other people to use what you’re designing. It’s all too easy to assume that other people think about things the same way you do.

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