Why you shouldn’t conduct a Card Sorting within a group

I was working a while ago in a company were I played a very interested role as a User Researcher and I was invited to participate to a ‘Friday Sessions’ of Card Sorting.

A group of designers were struggled redesigning some internal emails, specially divided between an algorithm way to display the content and the voice of the user according to their interests and needs and (both combined).

Some interviews with users revealed 90% of no interest on those emails: highlighting the length and level of details -impossible to process in less half an hour-, the need of an upgrade in visual design and lack of relevant information on them.

Based on the lack of clear path to move on to ‘Design fase’ and under pressure on timelines, designers decided to conduct a series of Card Sorting in 3 ‘Friday Sessions’.

The main target of those group session were to discuss and convey into an agreement about:
1. What type of content should be on email, based on frequency.
2. How the content should be displayed on emails.

They made a grid template about what they wanted to gather on the sessions:

Scope
1. To capture first reactions around different topics.
2. To gather the level of interest or rejection from some of the content.
3. To listen the discussion from participants and collect some ideas.
4. To gather hot topics from users divided in frequency.

What I learned from this session
1. Be careful with the people you invite to participate. Be aware of different personalities, and roles within a company. It’s seems to be obvious but when you are an observer of this situation this can be a horrible experience across role status, etc.

2. Groups for gathering information can be very tricky and it is always the same… some people are comfortable to say what they think others can be feel uncomfortable of being exposure in a work related environment, different personalities different ways of perceive the world. 
Strong personalities can affect or influence to other people in the brainstorming.

3. At the end of the sessions you will have some photos, videos and data on paper, and the only thing you can trust for sure is the information you got from individual tasks.

Finally
If you don’t have a clear scope of your business requirement and you don’t have a clear vision about what do you need to gather, please don’t start running a card sorting (and don’t do it with a group!).

Even though you have the perfect design strategy, based on excellent and clear business targets, please be very careful including different people into the same room to have a discussion about something that you are going to take some data from.

That’s why, you shouldn’t conduct a Card Sorting studies within a group.