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Card sorting is a straight-forward approach to include your client in the information architecture phase of the website design process. A card sorting exercise will allow you to form the structure of a website, organize it logically, and even determine labels.

It works amazingly well, physically mapping out the geography of thought processes is super productive.

There are two kinds of card sorting: open or closed. In open, participants sort cards in to related categories, and are then asked to give each category a name. In closed, participants sort cards into existing categories. When starting a new site, we use open. Closed is good for testing existing labels.

Running your own card sort is easy:

  1. Make a list of the top 100 most important content in the project: pages, topics, & features. Everything if necessary.
  2. Label index cards with each topic from that content inventory list.
  3. Include blank cards for new (or missed) topics.
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  5. Shuffle the cards, then spread them out on a large work surface.
  6. Ask participants to sort the cards in to related groups.
  7. If this is an open card sort, ask the participant to label each category.
  8. Photograph the results, reshuffle, and repeat as necessary.

According to usability guru Jakob Nielsen, you must test fifteen users to generate statistically reliable results.