Product Management Dictionary

The Product Management Dictionary: card sorting

Learn about card sorting, an essential technique in product management, with our comprehensive guide in The Product Management Dictionary.

As a product manager, ensuring that your product resonates with your target audience is crucial. You need to know precisely what your customers expect from your product to build a successful product. To understand your target audience, you may need to conduct card sorting to identify their needs, priorities, preferences, and pain points. In this article, we'll explore card sorting in-depth, and everything you need to know to conduct a successful card sorting session.

Understanding Card Sorting in Product Management

Product managers use card sorting to develop a user-friendly product that meets the needs of their target audience. Card sorting is a research and design technique that evaluates how users categorize and organize information. This technique helps identify how users group different items and how they label these groups. It's an effective method to determine the structure and hierarchy of product categories and design elements.

Definition and Purpose of Card Sorting

Card sorting is a technique to define and evaluate how users categorize and organize information. The primary purpose of card sorting is to identify the mental models and thought processes of the end-users. A mental model is a visual or cognitive representation of an object, concept or entity. Mental models influence how people perceive, understand, and interact with technology.

For instance, if you are designing a music streaming application, you need to understand how users categorize different genres of music. You need to know how they label these genres and what kind of music they expect to find under each category. By using card sorting, product managers can identify how their target audience perceives their product, what their expectations are, and how they interact with the product. This information is critical to design products that meet user needs more effectively.

The Role of Card Sorting in Product Development

Card sorting is a vital technique for product development. It helps product teams determine the best way to organize information within a product, making it easier for users to navigate and find what they're looking for. The results of a card sorting session can guide product roadmap planning and feature prioritization, ultimately leading to a more focused, user-centered product strategy.

For example, let's say you are developing a fitness app. You want to know how users categorize different types of exercises and how they expect to find those exercises in the app. By conducting a card sorting session, you can identify the most important categories and subcategories to build a structured and intuitive product hierarchy. This will help users find the exercises they need more easily, leading to a better user experience and increased engagement with the app.

Benefits of Card Sorting for Product Managers

Card sorting offers several benefits for product managers. By conducting a card sorting session, you can:

  • Gain a better understanding of your users' mental models, thought processes, and expectations.
  • Identify the most important categories and subcategories to build a structured and intuitive product hierarchy.
  • Optimize the user experience by understanding how users expect to interact with your product.

Moreover, card sorting can also help you identify gaps in your product and uncover new opportunities for innovation. By analyzing the results of a card sorting session, you can identify areas where users are struggling to find what they need or where they are looking for features that don't exist yet. This can help you prioritize new features and improvements that will make your product more competitive and user-friendly.

The insights gained from card sorting sessions can ultimately lead to improved product adoption, increased customer satisfaction, and better long-term product market fit. By using this technique, product managers can design products that meet user needs more effectively and create a competitive advantage in the market.

Types of Card Sorting Techniques

Card sorting is a popular method used by product teams to organize information architecture and improve the user experience. There are three types of card sorting techniques: Open, Closed, and Hybrid card sorting.

Open Card Sorting

Open card sorting is a technique where testers sort and organize concepts and categories without predefined groups. The users create the groups and categories that they regard as logical and meaningful. This technique can generate novel ideas for category and subcategory groupings that may not have occurred to the product team.

For instance, suppose you are conducting an open card sorting session for a recipe website. In that case, a user may create a category for "quick and easy recipes" that the product team had not considered before. This technique allows users to provide feedback on how they think about the content, making it more user-centric.

Closed Card Sorting

Closed card sorting involves organizing categories with predefined groups. In this method, the product team defines the groups and categories to be tested and identifies any flaws in the current structure. This technique is useful when a product team wants to test a specific structure or validate an existing one.

For example, suppose a product team wants to test the information architecture of a shopping website. In that case, they may use closed card sorting to validate the existing categories and subcategories and identify any issues with the current structure. This technique provides a more structured approach to information architecture, making it easier to compare results across participants.

Hybrid Card Sorting

Hybrid card sorting is a combination of open and closed techniques. Product teams define some of the categories and groups, and users create the rest. This technique provides a balance between the structured approach of closed card sorting and the user-centric approach of open card sorting.

For instance, suppose a product team wants to test the information architecture of a news website. In that case, they may use hybrid card sorting to define some of the categories and subcategories, such as "Politics" and "Sports," and allow users to create additional categories based on their preferences. This technique provides a more comprehensive approach to information architecture, taking into account both the product team's and users' perspectives.

Online vs. In-Person Card Sorting

Card sorting sessions may be conducted online or in-person using physical cards or digital tools. Online card sorting sessions are convenient, cheaper, easier to record, and scale up. In-person sessions generate better interaction, observation, and feedback. The choice of a card sorting method depends on the needs, audience, budget, and research environment.

For example, suppose a product team wants to conduct card sorting for a global audience. In that case, an online card sorting session may be more convenient and cost-effective than an in-person session. However, if a product team wants to observe users' behavior and reactions, an in-person session may be more appropriate.

Overall, card sorting is a valuable method for improving information architecture and user experience. By using different card sorting techniques and methods, product teams can gain insights into how users think about content and create a more user-centric experience.

How to Conduct a Card Sorting Session

Preparing for a Card Sorting Session

Card sorting is an essential technique used by product managers to understand how users group and categorize information. Before conducting a card sorting session, product managers should take the following steps:

  • Define Product Goals: It is crucial to define the product goals and what you hope to achieve through card sorting. This will help you to focus on the most important aspects of the product.
  • Identify the Target User Group: Identifying the target user group is essential to ensure that the card sorting results are relevant and useful. The target user group should be representative of the actual users of the product.
  • Create a List of Items: Product managers should create a list of items, cards, or ideas for sorting. This list should include all the features, functionalities, and information that the product offers.
  • Choose and Define Card Sorting Method: There are different card sorting methods available, such as open and closed card sorting. Product managers should choose the method that best suits their product goals and user group.
  • Decide Whether to Conduct the Card Sorting Session in Person or Online: Product managers should decide whether to conduct the card sorting session in person or online. Both methods have their advantages and disadvantages, and the choice depends on the product goals and user group.

Selecting Participants for Card Sorting

The success of a card sorting session depends on the quality of participants. The choice of participants depends on several factors, such as demographics, experience, skill set, and needs. Product managers should aim for a diverse user group with a mix of abilities, preferences, and backgrounds. Recruiting participants through social media, email lists, or online research portals helps reach the target audience effectively.

Facilitating the Card Sorting Process

The card sorting process is facilitated by the product manager or a designated facilitator. The facilitator should welcome participants, explain the process, and make them feel comfortable. The card sorting session should be simple, intuitive, and easy to follow. The facilitator needs to encourage discussion and collaboration between participants to identify similarities and differences in their perspectives.

During the session, the participants should be given a set of cards and asked to group them into categories that make sense to them. The facilitator should observe the participants and take notes on their categorization patterns, feedback, and suggestions.

Analyzing and Interpreting Card Sorting Results

After the card sorting session, the product manager needs to analyze and interpret the results. The product team should identify similarities and differences in the participant's categorization patterns. Product managers should interpret the results, identify strengths and weaknesses, and iterate the product based on the feedback.

The card sorting results can be used to improve the product's information architecture, navigation, and labeling. By understanding how users categorize information, product managers can design products that are intuitive, user-friendly, and meet the needs of their target audience.

Best Practices for Effective Card Sorting

Ensuring Clear and Concise Card Labels

The cards used in the card sorting session should be labeled clearly and concisely. The labels should be easy to understand and self-explanatory. The product manager should avoid using jargon, abbreviations, or technical terms that may confuse participants. By ensuring clear and concise labeling, participants can accurately categorize the cards and provide meaningful insights.

Encouraging Open Communication and Collaboration

The card sorting process should encourage open communication and collaboration between participants during the session. Participants should explain their reasoning for their category groupings and allow others to provide feedback. By promoting open communication and collaboration, the product team can gain valuable user insights, build teamwork, and increase the effectiveness of the card sorting session.

Iterating and Refining Based on Feedback

Card sorting is a continual process, and product teams should iterate and refine the product as per the feedback received through the card sorting sessions. Products need to evolve over time with the changing user needs and technology. By regularly conducting new card sorting sessions, product teams can stay on top of these changes and ensure that their products remain user-friendly and relevant.

Final Thoughts

Card sorting is a powerful tool for product managers to understand their user's mental models and produce a more user-friendly product. This article covers everything you need to know about the card sorting process. By following the above guidelines and best practices, you can conduct a successful card sorting session and iterate your product to meet the evolving needs of your target audience.