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The differences between open, closed and hybrid card sort depend on the who creates the categories. In short, with a closed card sort, only the researcher creates the categories that participants sort cards into.

With open card sort, the researcher does not define any categories, instead the participant will create and label the categories.

Hybrid cards sorts are a mix of open & closed. The researcher will define some categories, while the participant is able to create other categories if certain cards don't fit in the researcher defined categories.

Open card sort

What is an open card sort?

With an open card sort, participants sort a list of items into groups that make sense to them. Participants are free to assign whatever names they want to the groups they’ve created.

When should you conduct an open card sort?

In the generative/ideation phase. You'll learn how do participants naturally group items together.

Tip: You could conduct an open card sort first to identify content categories and then use a closed card sort to see how well the category labels work.

Try it yourself

What does an open card sort look like from the tester's perspective?

What do analytics for an open card sort look like?

Closed card sort

What is a closed card sort?

With a closed card sort, participants sort a list of items into predefined categories. They cannot update category names or add additional categories.

When should you conduct a closed card sort?

  • Testing an existing navigation structure: are my current category names understandable? Are there categories that aren't used by the users?

  • Leverage a closed card sort when adding new items into the existing structure to see how people fit new cards into existing categories.

  • You can also used closed card sorting to verify the labels that participants created during open card sorting.

Try it yourself

What does a closed card sort look like from the tester's perspective?

What do analytics for a closed card sort look like?

Hybrid card sort

What is a hybrid card sort?

A hybrid card sort is where you provide your participants predefined categories, similar to close card sort, but you also allow them to create their own categories if they don’t find a good fit from those provided.


When should you conduct an open card sort?

Researchers will use this technique when they already have some established categories but would like their target customer's input as to what the others should be.

Try it yourself

What does a hybrid card sort look like from the tester's perspective?

What do analytics for a hybrid card sort look like?


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