Choose between open, closed, or hybrid card sorts

You can choose one of three survey types — open, closed, or hybrid. This article tells you how they differ, what they are each used for, and what results you see for each of them.

An open card sort

In an Open card sort, participants create their own categories by dragging cards into groups that make the most sense to them. Participants are asked to label each of the categories they create.

An open sort can help you to:

  • Gain insight to help you design the initial information architecture
  • Understand how users naturally categorize the types of information you have on your website or intranet, and its relevance to them
  • Get user input into how to label your categories on your website or intranet

Results you will see for an open card sort

As well as the Participants, Cards, and Categories tables, your open card sorting results will include these visualizations:

  • Dendrograms
  • Similarity Matrix
  • Participant-centric Analysis
  • Standardization grid

Example of an open card sort

A closed card sort

In a closed sort, you create pre-defined categories, and participants will sort the cards into those categories. Participants must use the categories you define and are unable to create their own categories.

A closed card sort is good for getting people to rank and prioritize items and actions, like from Important to Unimportant, or Use Always to Use Never. You can also use closed card sorting to test if your category labels make sense to people, and which items they sort into which categories.

Closed card sorting can't be used to validate a new structure, or to test if people can find information in your structure. Use tree testing for that.

Results you will see for a closed card sort

As well as the Participants, Cards, and Categories tables, your closed card sorting results will include these visualizations:

  • Results matrix
  • Popular placements matrix

Example of a closed card sort

A hybrid card sort

In a hybrid card sort, you create pre-defined categories and allow participants to create their own as well. It's a perfect mix of both open and closed (hence the name 'hybrid'). So running a hybrid card sort can enable you to get user input into potential category labels for your website, and to see if pre-defined labels make sense to people. 

Hybrid card sorting is especially useful if:

  • you have your information architecture partially complete you are interested in seeing how participants label and sort the rest of your structure
  • you think that allowing participants to create their own categories will mean less people abandon the study.

Results you will see for a hybrid card sort

As well as the Participants, Cards, and Categories tables, your hybrid card sorting results will include these visualizations: 

  • Dendrograms
  • Similarity Matrix
  • Participant-centric analysis (PCA)
  • Standardization grid

Example of a hybrid card sort