Card Sorting and Website Navigation

Posted on January 12, 2016 by RJ Sherman

A common problem that you will hear is that a website’s navigation menu is confusing or unclear. However, just realizing there is an issue does not mean that you have the solution to fix the problem. 

A recommended approach is to spend time with actual users and get their insights. A simple method, especially for organizing a websites navigation and sub-navigation, is a card sort. There are two simple methods within card sorting: The Open Card Sort and the Closed Card Sort.

Card sorting collab

Using the Open Card Sort, you provide the participant a stack of cards that have all the topics from content within your website. The user creates their own logical groupings and labels their own group titles. These can be seen as the navigation and the content and/or sub-navigation items. This method is used to understand what the user comprehends. This is very useful to cut through industry jargon and “I understand what I mean, they should too” and shine light onto what is understood and what is confusing.

Using the Closed Card Sort, you provide the participant a stack of cards that have all the topics from content within your website along with group titles that are already defined. The user then determines what content goes under each grouping. This helps validate the navigation naming mechanism.

Both methods can be performed quickly. Based on the size of your site, a card sorting session should be completed within 60 minutes.  Generally, you want to run a session with 3 - 5 people and get at least 15 users input.  Also, be open to what materials you use - for example, don't feel constrained to index cards.  Using sticky notes may add additional collaborative value in the exercise and create very insightful conversations within your test group.

These methods of architecting your site based on user feedback will help in resolving confusing and unclear menu items.