Card Sorting for NTEN: Behind the Scenes

, Monday, July 13th, 2009

We’re excited to be working with the Nonprofit Technology Network to re-architect their website, NTEN.org. As each stage of the project is completed, we’ll share a behind-the-scenes recap about the process. First up: Card Sorting!

Card sorting is a common technique used to gather input from representative audiences about how they think about your information. Traditionally, participants are given cards representing pieces of content (or sections of your website) and asked to organize those cards in a way that makes sense to them. The process can also take place remotely, using online tools, as we’ve detailed below. When re-structuring any website, card sorting is an important step to ensure that the new site structure is as intuitive as possible for visitors.

Preparation

To create the list of items (or “cards”) to be sorted, we used two inputs:

  • A content inventory, which is a list of all content/pages on the site. The list is created in a spreadsheet which clearly shows the current structure of the site and which main section each item is currently categorized into.
  • A list of the website’s audiences and their primary goals or tasks. This helps to ensure that every key task is represented by a content item in the card sort, and it is crucial for usability testing (which will be a later step in our process).

We ended up with a list of 47 items that represented key content from NTEN’s website. The list was then loaded into Websort. Websort provides virtual card sorting, allowing participants to drag and drop cards into categories, then label those categories.

There are some limitations to online card sorting – participants can’t write or comment on the individual cards, there isn’t any communication between the facilitator and sorter (aside from one comments field), and the sorter can only create sub-categories using a labeling workaround. But online sorting also has major benefits: Anyone can participate, regardless of geographic location or scheduling constraints. The time commitment for facilitation is minimal after the sort has been set up, compared to the many hours involved in facilitating traditional in-person sorts. And lastly, the data is immediately ready to manipulate.

For NTEN, doing a virtual sort was a success: In the first four days, over 120 people participated.

One Sort, Two Audiences

We created two separate instances in Websort: One for active members of NTEN who have participated in an event, and one for those who belong to NTEN or have heard of it, but aren’t necessarily active. NTEN then distributed the links via email, blog, and Twitter to the two different groups. Although the cards used for the two sorts were exactly the same, splitting it into two instances would allow us to identify differences in the way the two audiences think about the content.

Results & Analysis

Card sort results can give insight into the following:

  • What groups are created by participants?
    Websort uses a clustering algorithm to provide quick visual overviews of how items have been grouped together.

    These visuals make it easy to see not only what common groups are emerging, but which items were most difficult to sort.

  • How did participants label those groups?
    Despite creating common groupings, participants labeled the groups differently. For example, some labeled by type of content (“Research” or “Webinars”). Others labeled by what they would use the content for (“Learn”).
  • Do active vs. inactive members think about the content differently?
    We saw a couple of minor differences in the way active vs. inactive members grouped content. For example, active members more often gave the Non-Profit Technology Conference its own category, while inactive members grouped it under Events.

To read the full list of observations, download the summary document.

Next Steps

Next, we’ll create a revised information architecture for the NTEN website, which shows how the content should be reorganized. Then, usability testing will be conducted to confirm the new structure and make any necessary changes. We’ll be providing more updates along the way, so stay tuned!

One Response to “Card Sorting for NTEN: Behind the Scenes”

  1. Laura Quinn Says:

    Thanks for sharing this – I agree that card sorting is a great way to look at possible navigational schemes, and should be used a lot more than it is. It’s really useful for folks to see a case study.

    Just one comment: people’s opinions of what goes together are very influenced by the language you use on the card. So for instance, if you have three cards titled “Getting Started: Broadcast Email”, “Getting Started: NTEN Membership” and “Getting Started: Metrics for IT Staffing “, many many people will create a “Getting Started” category. If you titled these cards “Basics of Broadcast Email”, “Benefits of NTEN Membership”, and “Research: Metrics for IT Staffing “, many many fewer people would group them together (I would imagine), even though those titles may accurately refer to exactly the same docs. So it’s important to mix up the language you use on the cards.