Results of Card Sorting the KDE System Settings

Recently we run a survey on KDE's system setting with the goal to rearrange the control modules. Here we present the results and discuss a possible structure for the future system settings.


KDE tries to be as much customizable as possible: All freedom to the user! This leads to an extended configuration that might be confusing to new users. Additionally, modules from different sources are aggregated in a way that not necessarily fits the mental representation of users. For instance, the distinction between ‘workspace appearance’ and ‘window appearance’ is not common in other desktop environments.

Therefore we started a card sorting test to analyze how people think about system setting. Here we present the results.


Card sorting is the standard method in usability to analyze hierarchical information. Participants are asked to build a structure that fits best their representation by creating groups and sorting all items (aka index cards in the offline world) into these groups. Items sorted into the same group get higher similarity value. And the statistical evaluation aggregates the individual grouping to an average model represented by a dendrogram.


First: the KDE community is awesome! Within a few hours we got enough responses for the evaluation, and in total we have 331 answers. Thanks a lot, it’s great to be part of it. All analysis results are available online (

Comparing the dendrogram based on user responses (right figure) with a virtual dendrogram as constructed by the actual system settings (left figure) the different categorization becomes obvious. There are about six main topics covered by system settings with some subordinate categories.

Dendrogram of orginal organization

Dendrogram of original organization

Dendrogram of participant's sorting

Dendrogram of participant’s sorting

To go into detail, we built a heatmap from the similarity matrix. Items that are regularly sorted into the same group have a higher similarity and are colored from blue for low values over green and yellow to red.

Heatmap of similarity: the brighter the intersection the higher both items are associated in average.

Heatmap of similarity: the brighter the intersection the higher both items are associated in average. For details have a look at the original matrix.

Some groups are very prominent:

  1. Window Management / Workspace
    It contain of two sub groups with a) Activities, Activity Settings, Virtual Desktops, Manage Notifications, and b) Window Behavior, Window Rules, Kwin Scripts, Task Switcher, Screen Edges.
  2. Shortcuts
    Including Global Keyboard Shortcuts, Standard Keyboard Shortcuts, Custom Shortcuts
  3. Appearance
    Desktop Theme, Icons, Cursor Theme, Style, Fonts, Colors, GTK, Emoticons, Window Decorations
  4. Personalization / Accessibility
    Containing a) Country / Region & Language, Spell Checker, Accessibility, and b) Accounts, Password and User, KDE Wallet, Social Desktop (only partially associated with 4a, and separated into distant nodes at the dendrogram)
  5. Hardware / Devices
    That is a) Mouse, Touchpad, Joystick, Keyboard, Graphic Tablet, Remote Controls and b) Devices, Adapters, Energy Saving
  6. Networking
    Connection Preferences, Proxy, File Transfers, Service Discovery, Windows Shares

A few items are ambiguous:

  • Launch Feedback, Workspace, and Screen Locker: these items are related to 1. Window Management/Workspace or 3. Appearance
  • Display Configuration and Gamma which are associated with 5. Hardware, but Gamma with 3. Appearance too
  • Web short-cuts with 2.Shortcuts or 6.Networking
  • System Bell which seems to be very confusing (it’s actually an ancient feature of notifications) and has relations to 1a, 2, 4a, 5b, or Launch Feedback


As commented by others the study has the bias of potentially unknown functions, or rather unusual names or items out of context. For instance, Devices and adapters are originally an item of Bluetooth settings, and would probably have been sorted differently with this information. Furthermore some settings rather target experts, like KWin Scripts, and should be placed less prominently. Hence our following suggestion is only loosely based on the results.

Six top level groups (or topics) should be enough to organize the modules and to maintain the task. This is quite similar to what we have right now. But the assignment of subordinate categories and the corresponding items is slightly different, some have improved labels too.

  • Appearance
    • Themes (aka Workspace) (Widget Style, Desktop theme, Cursor theme)
    • Style (Window decoration, Splash screen, Gtk)
    • Colors
    • Font
    • Emoticons

    (Remark: Jens Reuterberg proposed some kind of mega theme at the KDE forum, which sounds pretty nice. But all topics need some categories to keep the navigation consistent. Another point for discussion is where Widget Style belongs to: Theme or Style? Again, we should take care of balancing the structure.)

  • Workspace
    • Window behavior (Desktop effects, Screen Edges, Launch Feedback, Task switcher, KWin Scripts, Window Rules)
    • Notification (Applications, System Bell)
    • Shortcuts and Gestures (Custom, Standard, Global)
    • Activities

    (Remark: Can’t we just drop the beep support (aka System Bell)? Who owns and want to use an in-built speaker instead of jingles?)

  • Personalization
    • Account Details (Password, Path, Wallet)
    • Regional Settings (aka Locale) (Country/Region, Language, Spell Checker)
    • Standard Programs (Default Applications, File Association, Desktop Search)
    • Accessibility
  • Networking
    • (Network) Settings (Proxy, Preferences, Certificates (aka SSL Preferences), +Network Manager)
    • Connectivity (Accounts aka (PIM) Personal Information, Instant Messaging and VoIP, Social Desktop, Web Shortcuts)
    • Sharing

    (Remark: Network Manager settings should get an own KCM, which is being in preparation right now. Secondly, it is questionable if PIM accounts should have a central configuration since it’s applied in Kontact only. And, apparently from the study results too, the organization of web shortcuts is difficult and could be improved by another wording.)

  • Hardware
    • Input Devices (including Keyboard, Mouse, Touchpad, Joystick, Remote Control, Camera)
    • Display and Monitor (including Gamma)
    • Removable Devices
    • Printers
    • Multimedia
    • Device Actions
    • Power management
  • Software
    • Bodega
    • Adobe Flash Player

    (Remark: Apparently, Bodega is just an idea for future improvements. The topic could be extended by the distribution specific software management.)

Based on this list we will outline an idea how to get both simple access to a module and the full set of features without introducing a further navigation. Join the discussion at the KDE forum!