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Card sorting – does size matter?

by Martyn Green on September 19, 2012

Over the years, I have conducted card sorts for a variety of organisations. Generally speaking, I recommend a card sort group should consist of around 6 to 8 people. This number tends to be easier to manage and monitor.

I was recently faced with a fresh challenge when a client asked me to conduct a card sort with a considerably larger number of participants. Although the end goal of creating a logical navigation structure was the same, a bigger group meant I had other factors to consider.

I thought I’d share my thoughts on what you need to consider when facilitating a large number of participants.

Create small teams

Before you get started, make sure that everyone understands why they are there. Give them an introduction to what a card sort consists of.

With a large group you will need to split them into ‘teams’ of smaller groups. Try to ensure that each team has a mix of colleagues from different departments, so they speak to those they wouldn’t normally interact with on a regular basis.

Get everyone involved

When I have a small number of participants, my role is to oversee proceedings with very little interference. However, with a big group there it’s highly likely you’ll encounter some strong personalities who try to dominate proceedings. Make sure that nobody sits back and lets one person do all the talking, get everyone involved and encourage them to have a discussion about their requirements.

Question Everything

Ask your participants why they are putting content in a particular place.

Ask them questions such as:

  • Is this content available to everyone?
  • Who is this relevant to?
  • Are you duplicating content? If so, why?

Get them to consider the needs of others, not just how they would locate a particular piece of content.

Using an external facilitator

As you’ll have a large number of people involved in a bigger card sort, you’re more likely to face conflict and internal politics. A facilitator from outside the business will be impartial and won’t get bogged down by the politics meaning the group can focus on the task in hand.

If you’ve managed to get a large group together, make the most of it. From a cost or time point of view it may not be possible to gather this group together again for some time. Get them to carry out a wire framing exercise exercise immediately after your card sort. This way, the navigation structure will be fresh in their minds, and the logical progression to page layouts will make more sense to them.

Having a larger group means you’ll be able to work on several page layouts. Divide your group into subgroups to work on individual pages. Take them out of their comfort zone, so if it’s a group of HR personnel get them working on the Marketing page layout. This way the layout will be structured in a way that is logical for most users, not how a department thinks it should look.

What do you think are the main considerations when carrying out a card sort with a larger than average group? RT your comments below.

Topics: 3. Function

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