How to Use Trello for Card Sorting

In a recent guest lecture about Effective User Interface Design, I used card sorting to teach the students about the concept of mental model mismatch and demonstrate how each of us has a different kind of taxonomic system in our heads. I opted to use Trello instead of the more traditional physical cards to cut costs and promote paperless workflows. Despite a bit of confusion in the beginning, it worked out well. Here’s how you can use Trello for card sorting—whether for face to face or remote card sorting exercises.

1. Sign up to Trello.


Ask your participants to sign up to Trello, if they didn’t already have an account.

2. Create a new board for the card sort.


Ask them to create a new board for the card sort.


3. Name the first list “Unsorted.”

Participants should type “Unsorted” into the first list that appears when the board is newly created.


Click Save.


4. Copy the raw unsorted text.

Ask them to access the raw, unsorted list of categories. I used Google Docs for this but as long as you can give them a text file of the list, it should be fine.


5. Paste the text.

Ask your participants to paste the text into the first card of the Unsorted list, then click Save. Important: tell them to not paste the whole list into the list title in step #3. Instead, it should be pasted to the first card.


Upon doing so, Trello will ask them if they want to turn the list into individual cards.


They should select the option to “Create XX cards.”


6. Start sorting!

If you’re doing a free sort where participants can come up with their own categories, then just teach them that they can create new lists and drag the cards. Otherwise, you’ll need to instruct your participants what categories are allowed.

Tip: I noticed some students who were new to Trello retyping the cards from one category to another. You need to tell them that it’s as simple as dragging the cards to their categories.


7. It’s submission time.

If they selected private when they created the board, they’ll need to change the Visibility to Public. As an alternative, you can create teams and invite all your participants, then ask them to change the Visibility to the team you created.


To share the link with you, ask them to click Show Menu > More. Then copy the link under “Link to this board.”


Your participants can then send you the link to their sorted board by email or whichever collaboration tool you prefer. For my class I used Google Spaces.