How to Perform a Card Sorting Workshop: the Basis for a Content Strategy

To perform a content strategy is not an easy job. In fact, it can be very overwhelming, depending on the scope of the project. A good starting point is to define the communication goals of a brand, to be able to analyze how the current communication is doing and to make recommendations for the future. A card sorting workshop is a great way to force uncomfortable discussions between the team and bring consensus. In this article, I will explain how to perform a card sorting workshop to define a brand’s message architecture.


Photo by Patrick Perkins on Unsplash

What is a Content Strategy?

According to Rahel Bailie, co-author of the book Content Strategy: Connecting the Dots Between Business, Brand, and Benefits:

Content strategy is a repeatable system that governs the management of content throughout the entire lifecycle.

This statement means that a content strategy is a set of principles on how content is managed, organized into a planned delivery method. The system must take into consideration all of the stages, including future iterations. It is essential to know what the business communication goals are in other to define a strategy.

Margot Bloomstein, in her book, Content Strategy at Work: Real-world Stories to Strengthen Every Interactive Project, defines:

Message Architecture is an outline or hierarchy of communication goals that reflects a common vocabulary.

But how to identify these goals? One of the methods Margot recommends is a card sorting workshop.

The Benefits of Card Sorting

This workshop is very beneficial for the whole team involved. It encourages tactile engagement with brand attributes. It also helps to identify conflicting priorities and points of disagreement.

How to Perform a Card Sorting Workshop?

You’ll need a pack of about 150 index cards, labeled with adjectives most applicable to the client’s industry. Margot Bloomstein suggests these in her book.

Screenshot 2019-08-02 at 16.35.58
Besides the attributes, you will also need three label cards with the following text:

  • Who we are
  • Who we’d like to be
  • Who we’re not

Reserve 60–90 minutes for this activity depending on the number of participants and their decision-making abilities. In general, it works best with no more than six client stakeholders.

Step One: Categorize

This portion of the exercise should take no more than 15 minutes. And the adjectives should be divided into three categories. Who we are – the clients should characterize with the adjectives how the brand is currently perceived. Who we’d like to be – now is time to divide adjectives on how the client would like the brand to be perceived. Who we’re not – the client should put in this category the terms they don’t want to associate with their brand. After they are done, dig into their categories for a few minutes and ask questions about “problematic” words. Also, note if they have some opposite adjectives in the same category. Words like timeless and trendy should not be both aspirations.

Step Two: Filter

After digging into their categories for a few minutes, move on to step two for the next 15-20 minutes. Ask the stakeholders what qualities they want to hold on to as they move forward. Remove the terms that don’t apply.

Step Three: Prioritize and Close

Now is the time to group the remaining words in a way it makes sense for the brand and to prioritize these groups.

When the workshop is done, congratulate the group for the excellent job and explain that you’ll go back and integrate this list into a prioritized message architecture.

My Learnings

The time slot Margot Bloomstein defines is her book wasn’t realistic. There were five people as clients, and the ideas were often very different about what specific terms meant to them and what were the priorities. It usually took around 10 minutes longer than she suggested.
There is always someone that is more dominant in the group and someone that keeps quiet during the activity. Try to ask questions for the quiet person during some discussions, to understand why are they quiet and to involve everyone in the process.

Nuki’s Message Architecture

I performed this workshop with Angela de Monte, a colleague of mine at Nuki Home Solutions. At the end of the activity, this was the result:

And this is Nuki’s Message Architecture:

1- The thought leader

Ahead of the market/ industry, continuously seeking for innovation.

2- Premium

High quality, state-of-art technology, modern and elegant design.


Professional, responsible and transparent with stakeholders. A reliable partner.

4- Customer-oriented

Connected to its customers and attentive to their needs. Friendly, welcoming, and simple to use.

5- Strategic

Focused and proactive in its way of working. Driven to achieve long-term goals.





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