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Nielsen on card sorting

You could hardly expect me not to comment on Jakob Nielsen’s alertbox on card sorting. I get the feeling that people expect me to disagree just on principle ;)

There is some good stuff in here – the same points that I return to frequently:

  • card sorting is a generative method, not an evaluation method
  • much of the value comes from listening to people’s comments
  • it is important not to design an information architecture on similarity scores

Also good is that he points out that the findings were based on one research study. I have done card sorts on enough information domains to know that some domains cluster easily, some don’t. I can think of a couple of homogeneous domains where high correlation would be possible with many fewer participants.

Actually, there are only a couple of things I disagree with:

  • a card sort is not a ‘test’ so the language of ‘testing’ users confuses the issues of generative and evaluative activities
  • I truly don’t believe that users have a mental model of an information space. A card sort doesn’t elicit this model – it just gets some ideas of what things people think are similar.
  • I can’t tell whether the number of users is in reference to individual sorts or group sorts. I expect it must refer to individual sorts (so you are after 15 sets of results, not 15 sorts). However, if this is the case, then the reference to ‘listening to users comments’ is irrelevant as people don’t tend to talk to themselves when they sort!

If you would like to know more, read my definitive guide to card sorting over on Boxes and Arrows or have a look at previous musings in my card sorting category.

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