Some sort of card sorting – a UX experiment

This is some sort of card sorting

Some sort of card sorting
Everyone likes to sort things, to straighten them out.
Either books on a shelf, clothes in the closet or even business cards in our wallets.
Some people will go to incredible lengths when it comes to sorting out and categorizing of content.
While playing with my phone the other day I realized that I keep changing the way I order my iPhone apps, and that the way I have them organized is completely different from how I have them on my iPad. Now, talking to different people it became evident that everyone has different criteria for how things should be on their phone. It is more than just “how it works” – it is also is a representation of “who they are”.
So now I have decided to  do some user research.

The goal of this research is to find out  how users think when they organize their apps, how they relate each other and if there are other reasons than just “to make it usable”.

Do they care if they can access the content fast? Or do they care more about how they screen looks? Or are there other things at stake?

It is not a user test to discover potential problems with the iPhone interface. This test can be done in the future (if appropriate) with users of other similar systems , e.g. Android users. It was planned with the iPhone because is the platform that I know and have access to.

Screening the users for the test

A simple screening will be done to get the “right” user:
  • They own an iPhone
  • They are familiar with how to work with it and how to organize the apps

Some sort of “card sorting”

The first part of the part of the test started with a card sort using a blown up mockup of an iPhone and some cards resembling the icon apps. The applications will be selected from the ones that appear on the screenshots sent by some other users (more on this later). The number of applications will be around 100.

Selecting the cards

The first part is to select the apps that the user knows from the ones available for the test.
The users divided the apps into 5 categories:
  • Apps that they have on their phone
  • Apps that they had but deleted
  • Apps that they know about
  • Apps that they can guess what they are based on the name or the logo
  • Apps they don’t know and can’t guess
Another group was done before hand with the apps provided by apple.
Only the apps that they own were used in combination with the ones from apple. In some cases the users wanted to have some of the ones they had, and in a couple of times a post it was used to recreate a missing app (this will be explored on the next article)

After this the rules of the “sort” were explained:

  • There are some applications that can be put together in “folders”
  •  This folders should be named by the user. A name is suggested by the system, and it is related to the categories of the apps on the App Store. This naming system is prone to “errors” when 2 applications of different categories are put together, it will choose the name based on the first app “dragged into” the second one to create the folder.
  • There are some other apps that can’t be located on folders (some of the pre-installed apps from Apple).
  • There are 4 slots for  apps  in the dock for easy access
  • There could be a max. of 16 apps per screen, in a grid of 4 by 4
  • There is a limit of maximum 12 apps per folder
  • There can be up to 11 screens
  • Each folder can be renamed, and different folders can have the same name


Sorting the cards


The second part was to organize the apps on the mock-up starting with the ones in the “Apple Apps” pile.
Users were asked to start with the ones that will go in the dock and then on the main screen. All the apps from this pile that were not used on the screen were used later on the second/third screen. The rest of the screen was “filled” with the apps from the first user pile: Apps that they own. Again, same as with the Apple Apps, some were saved for the other screens.
Users could either use the apps “on screen” or put them into folders.
The exercise continued with the second screen, where the users will sort out the applications again as they wanted.


The were some constrains that I found while using the mockup. Some of them could be solved on futures tests, while others is necessary to find a way to work around them.

  • The application icons will be in black and white instead of color. This takes away the option of “sort by color”.
  • The language of the application names will be in English. Some users might have their iPhones in different languages and the application names could be different.Same as the “default” folder names i.e. the Calculator app is called “calculadora” in Spanish and “lommeregner” in Danish; a folder for utility apps is called “hjælpeprogrammer” in Danish.


Inverted Card Sort

Different screenshots from iPhone users

Different screenshots from iPhone users

The second exercise was what I like to call “Inverted Card Sort”

I had examples (screenshots) from multiple users showing how they organize their apps. Instead of asking users to organize the applications the way they want, I will ask them to guess the reasons why the example users organized their applications in that particular way. Also, I want them to describe who the users are, what can they say about the person based on the screenshots.

After all this, a  more relax conversation (debriefing) was done with the users. This was the time that testers had to make extra comments and provided feedback.

Next article….

 On our next article we will share with you our first analysis of all the data provided by the users.
Also, we will share with you some resources and literature about card sorting!
Any questions or comments are welcome.

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