Card Sorting Analysis: One size fits all approach

Just noticed a tutorial on card sorting at CHI.. Here is the description:

“This tutorial will provide researchers with practical guidance and hands-on experience in card sorting and cluster analysis methods and tools…

-What is a card sort and cluster analysis?
-How do I perform a card sort and cluster analysis (tools and methods)?

-What else do I need to know to be able to perform this method in practice?”

My question is – why on earth are they restricting themselves to cluster analysis. Although they do not say so explicitly, I suspect they are probably going to mostly talk about “Hierarchical Cluster Analysis”. This is such a restrictive use of Card-sorting which is capable of being a general purpose user mental modeling technique.

We have used Hierarchical Cluster Analysis, K-means cluster analysis and Multidimensional scaling with great success. Different types of problems require different analysis techniques. Architectural problems might require Hierarchical Cluster Analysis, but I often find such analysis too restrictive and prescriptive (it gives me a structure – take it or leave it). In contrast, I find the results of MultiDimensional Scaling helps more in understanding the domain for an exploratory project.

I really need to put together some examples of visual deliverables for different types of card sort analysis. If only my clients would let me get out of those NDA’s, and let me share some examples!

11 thoughts on “Card Sorting Analysis: One size fits all approach

  1. Sounds like you’ve used card sorting in some interesting ways…

    As a side note on the consulting front: one thing that we *always* do is to arrange contracts that allow us to “reuse” project material that is developed. That allows us to write our many articles and case studies.

    Clients will always be hesitant at this, and some negotiation will invariably be required, just don’t take “no” for an answer! For example, I think there has only been one client in the last two years that hasn’t allowed us to reuse information, and we work mostly with large government agencies…

  2. James, glad to see you here.

    You are right, we probably need to be a little more insistent about the case study issue.

    As regards card-sorting, I really believe its a far more powerful technique than its current usage would imply. For example, its a good way to understand emotional connotations and associations with objects and people. Or it can be used in the conceptualization stage – to simply understand how people think about a domain.

  3. Rashmi,

    Just ran across this while looking for articles on card sorting. As one of the developers of the card sorting tutorial at CHI, I wish you’d have posed your question to one of us. I’m very interested in expanding into other cluster analysis techniques besides HCA and would enjoy discussing it with you. In particular, I’d be interested in a reference that discusses the algorithms for doing MDS with just paired frequency.

    Hope to hear from you.

  4. Hi
    Does any one know of any resources (books, sites) that might provide practical guidance on how to conduct cluster analysis from card sorts?


  5. If you are looking for software then EzCalc is your best bet. You can find a copy on the internet archive:

    If you want to do the stats on your own, then a basic multivariate stats book should suffice. The site I mentioned above is a good start:

    YOu need to look up Hierarchical Cluster Analysis. Basically you will need to generate a similarity matrix from the card sort data and then do cluster analysis.,

  6. There are far more methods of analysing sorting data than hierarchical cluster analysis — within MDS there is MDSORT by Takane, specifically designed for sorting data, and a whole range of other representations.

    I cannot forebear citing my book: SORTING DATA: COLLECTION AND ANALYSIS (Sage: QASS 127, 1999) which covers this ground, and, which contains MDSORT!

    Good sorting


  7. I would like to kno wabout card sorting…Could u pl. advice me the very basic stuff with examples. I would like to receive your advice through my email….

    Kind Regards

  8. Pls help me.I’ve carried out card sorting activity but can’t seem to understand the analysis part.dendogram?matrix from excel sheet?I do not understand how to summarize with only 3 users result.

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