Open vs. Closed Card Sorting

There are 3 main types of card sorting: Open, Closed and Hybrid. We discuss each of them in detail on our page about conducting your first card sorting study. However, today we are going to compare two of the most popular ones: Open vs. Closed card sorting. Read along!

Open card sorting

In an open card sorting study, participants arrange cards into self-defined categories. The number of produced categories is unrestricted. The order in which the cards are arranged is up to the respondents. Respondents are given the option to name categories in a way that makes sense to them rather than having to select from a small number of predefined options.

Select open card sorting if you:

  • Lacking knowledge of how to classify and name your content categories.
  • Want to learn how visitors interpret the content on your website?
  • You must ascertain whether certain segments of your audience have different perceptions of the content and anticipate that it will be categorized differently.
open vs closed card sorting

Closed card sorting

Users are supposed to arrange cards into the predetermined categories when using closed card sorting. Respondents aren’t given as much freedom to express themselves in this type of study as they are in an open card sort. Intentionally limiting their options allows you to assess your own category set and determine the best way to organize and label information.

Select closed card sorting if you want to:

  • Know if users organize cards into the same categories as you do?
  • Find out if your labels are clear to users or if they are confusing to them?
  • Choose the best category label option from a variety of options.

Open vs. Closed card sorting

So which one should you choose: open or closed card sorting?

If you’re looking for novel suggestions on how the content should be organized, open card sort is the best option for you. Select the open card sort if you’re still unsure of how to label your categories or even how many you’ll need. When building a new website from scratch or right before the redesign, it will be very helpful. 

Closed card sorting, on the other hand, will be the best choice if you already have a set of defined categories and are confident they represent your content perfectly. Users will just need to sort the given cards into those categories in a way that makes sense to them, helping you to avoid guesswork.