For years (literally) I have been trying to figure out what closed card sorting is good for, and today finally had an idea.
Now, the common theory is that a closed card sort is valuable for evaluating a classification or the results from an open sort. Using this approach, you give participants a set of cards with content and ask them where, from a set of pre-selected headings, they would place that content. The idea, though not always explained, is that this corresponds to where people would look for the content.
No! This is completely invalid. Categorising information and finding it are two entirely different tasks, with entirely different cognitive processes. The only way to test whether a classification will allow people to find information, is to ask them to find information (or at least ask where they would look). You don’t learn it by asking them to place information in the classification.
But, if you are testing a classification where the key task is to categorise content, closed card sorting is completely appropriate. This may be a great way to learn where intranet or website authors would place their page and what metadata they’d choose; or what categories people select when entering data into a business application. Give them some content examples, and ask what categories it belongs in. Then separately test whether users can find that same information.
And if you have an idea for a valid use of this technique, please let me know – I am interested in discovering good uses.