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Card Sort

This simple exercise will help you identify what’s most important to the people you’re designing for.


Suggested Time

30 Minutes

Level of Difficulty


Materials Needed

Pre-made cards with a relevant word or image on them


Design team, person you’re designing for

Process Phase

A Card Sort is a quick and easy way to spark conversation about what matters most to the people you’re designing for. By putting a deck of cards, each with a word or single image, in someone’s hands and then asking them to rank them in order of preference, you’ll gain huge insight into what really counts. You can also use the Card Sort exercise to start a deeper conversation about what he or she values and why.


  1. Make your deck of cards for the card sort. Use either a word or a picture on each card, but whatever you select, make sure that it’s easy to understand. Pictures are a better choice if the person doing the Card Sort speaks another language or cannot read.
  2. When tailoring your deck of cards to your precise research objectives, be sure that you’re mixing concrete ideas with more abstract ones. You can learn a lot about how the person you’re designing for understands the world by making this exercise more than just a simple ranking.
  3. Now give the cards to the person you’re designing for and ask her to sort them according to what’s most important.
  4. There are a couple variations on this method that work nicely: Instead of asking the person you’re designing for to rank the cards in order of preference, ask her to arrange them as she sees fit. The results might surprise you. Another tweak is to pose different scenarios. Ask the person you’re designing for how she would sort the cards if she had more money, if she were old, if she lived in a big city.