Join our mailing list for intranet and digital workplace links from around the web.

We’re careful with your personal information. Read our privacy statement for more about how we manage your details, and your rights.

Get in touch

Make your intranet work harder for you. Contact us to see how we can help.
+44 (0)1244 458746

Intranet Advent Day 18 – Card sorting – physical and online

Intranet Advent Day 18 – Card sorting – physical and online

18We’re counting down to Christmas with a stocking-filler tip every day.

Cards are not just for Christmas, but can help with your intranet design too.

Card sorting for intranets is about getting non-expert end-users involved in the design of your navigation or information architecture. Asking people what they want is a terrible idea (unless it’s for their Christmas present) but having people show you what makes sense through exercises can be brilliantly helpful.

If you’ve done your content audit, and have a firm list of the topics your current or future intranet must contain, you can engage scores of people to help layout the structure or navigation.

Card sorting asks people (individually or in groups) to say where they would expect to find something on their intranet and it’s these expectations that we should build our intranets around.

Online card sortOnline

You can ask hundreds of people to complete the card-sorting task online, individually, and in their own timeframe. This will provide robust averages on which to base your navigation or structure, but the results can be more ambiguous because you don’t get to discuss the exercise with the participants.

Optimal Workshop, Concept Codify, Simple Card Sort, and others provide online card sorting for a price.

Physical card sortIn real life

To gain more qualitative information than online sorting, you might run some group sessions in real life. The downside is that it’s possible for one or two people to dominate the group result. The upside is that you can note people’s thinking processes, consternation and dissension. Not every decision people make is made wholeheartedly! Sometimes we plump for solutions that seem ‘OK’ rather than ‘perfect’.

You can print your cards out, but there’s nothing wrong with hand-written cards. Recording actual results can be a bit of a pain too, but photographing helps.

Closed or open

A ‘closed’ card sorting exercise provides participants with the main navigation headings, making them choose where to put the cards within pre-designated ‘buckets’.

An ‘open’ card sorting exercise leaves participants free to choose their own ‘bucket’ headings / group names, as well as the number of card groups. For instance, Sandra might decide the she only needs four main categories – ‘My HR’, ‘Operations’, ‘People’, and ‘Projects’ whereas Pavel might decide he wants to use ‘Our work’, ‘Your career’, ‘Factory’, ‘Retail’, and ‘Distribution’ as the main navigation headings.

An ‘open’ card sort creates richer, but more complicated, results for you to analyse.


I suggest the following practices:

  • Keep in mind whether you are interested in the structure of the intranet content, or the navigation menus. (The structure is like the aisles of a supermarket; fairly rigid and persistent. Menus are like the signs in a supermarket that help shoppers find what they want; easy to change and easy to read.)
  • Start with an open real-life group – maybe seven people – note everything that perturbs them. Repeat this open real-life card sort with perhaps three groups.
  • If time permits, ask 30 people to individually participate in an open online exercise.
  • Now that you’ve learnt people’s expectations regarding main headings, ask 30 – 100 people to individually participate in a closed online exercise.
  • Communicate the purpose of card sorting clearly – it’s about discovering people’s expectations, not the ‘correct’ way of doing things.
  • Don’t only perform sorting exercises to plan your new intranet, but also to plan improvements to your existing navigation.
  • Ask a third-party, like us, to set all this up. Experience and professional distance helps ensure the relevancy and significance of the results.

Statistical analysis can take a little time, but obvious patterns can be seen as soon as you look at the data.

Use the data to inform your menu headings, drop-down navigation menus and, if useful, the structure of your intranet. Use the data to refute stakeholders’ whims and assumptions. Don’t build your intranet based on senior people’s opinions; build it around employees’ needs and expectations.

Check #intranetadvent for a fresh idea each day.

Wedge Black

I support ClearBox in everything we do online, and I assist clients that are considering redeveloping or replacing their intranet platform. I worked in global and regional organisations as the intranet manager as part of the comms team, before becoming an intranet consultant. I'm the founder of the Intranet Now annual conference. I’ve tweeted about intranets and comms for fifteen years now.

1 Comment

Post a Comment


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.