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- Principles & Frameworks for Design Thinking and Information Architecture. Prototyping and User Testing of Prototypes. Top skills you will learn. User Research, Low Fidelity Prototyping, High Fidelity Prototyping, User Journey Mapping, Information Architecture, Affinity Mapping, User Testing & Design Validation, UX Audit, Principles of Visual Design.
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- By Jonny Grass, updated on October 27th, 2020 Length: 9 Minutes One of the classic tools in the UX designer’s toolbox is an affinity map (sometimes called an affinity diagram). If you’ve ever seen a photo of a bunch of designers standing in front of sticky notes on a wall, an affinity map is what you were probably looking at.
Affinity diagramming is a core UX skill.
It helps UX professionals to sort ideas into logical groups by placing Post-its onto a board. Affinity diagramming is a great way to sort through dense research data and get to the root of findings. It also gets stakeholders engaged and invested in your UX research at an early stage.
Here’s our complete guide to running an affinity diagram session, including a step-by-step video on remote workshops.
How to run an in-person affinity diagram session
Prepare for the session by finding a clear space to put your Post-it notes. A whiteboard or whiteboard sheets are preferable. For legibility, use Post-its and Sharpies for note-taking and be prepared to take photos of the session to keep a detailed visual record of your progress.
Here’s the breakdown to running an in-person workshop:
1. Find people to collaborate with.
Affinity mapping is a collaborative exercise where different perspectives can help uncover user barriers. Find participants from different teams and/or outside the UX community.
2. Share your research.
Share your usability tests and interview recordings with your group and ask them to take notes. Encourage them to write down the first insights that come into their head.
3. Make your own notes.
Take a look at your own research to date. Review your competitive benchmarking, survey results and usability tests and take notes of everything that relates to the current user experience.
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Don’t worry if you don’t capture everything, just note what you think is relevant. There are no wrong answers.
4. Start writing onTO POST-ITS.
Once your room is set up, start writing down relevant notes and observations onto Post-its.
For legibility, write in capital block letters with an easy-to-read marker like a Sharpie. Notes should be detailed enough to explain the insight but concise enough to be read and understood quickly.
An example of a poor observation is: “Calendar”. An example of a good observation is: “The user missed the calendar because they didn’t notice the CTA”
Avoid making yourself a to-do list by writing design suggestions. Keep your findings as they are. Instead of saying, “CTA needs to be bigger, higher up on the page”, say“User missed the CTA on the homepage.”
User quotes can also be powerful.
5. Discuss your notes and observations with your group.
Vocalise your thoughts with your group. Don’t be afraid to say exactly what’s on your mind, even if it might not feel valuable.
Everything is open for discussion. It’s during the discussion that the insights really come to light.
6. Place them onTO the whiteboard.
Once you’ve written your sticky notes and discussed them with your group, start placing them into logical groupings on the whiteboard. Some things to note:
- Don’t be concerned if your groupings change throughout. This is normal.
- Sub-groupings are encouraged. Try to make your groupings as granular as possible, especially if you have a few big groups.
- Stack repetitive observations on top of each other. Place the most articulate one on top of the pile.
- It’s normal to have a few Post-its that don’t belong anywhere.
- Set a time for this session.
7. Name your groups.
Name your groups after you’ve organised all the Post-its. This should come easily if they’re in logical groups. If it’s hard to think of names, you might need to get more granular with your groupings.
8. Review your work.
By the end of your affinity diagram session, you should have clear groupings that summarise the key themes from your research. All of this information is valuable for helping you design for the user.
How to run a remote affinity diagramming session
Increasingly distributed teams have led to a growth in remote affinity diagramming. In the below video, our team run you through the process step-by-step; from picking your tool to grouping your findings.
Remote workshops have many benefits. It’s easier to recruit participants as they don’t have to travel to your location, and you don’t have to worry about finding a suitable physical space or materials on the day.
These best practices can help move your affinity diagram session online:
1. Aim to recreate an in-person session online.
Follow the same principles as an in-person affinity mapping session. Communicate with your group throughout the session. It’s possible to discreetly video conference within MURAL and Miro, allowing you to focus on the tasks at hand. Have Google Meet or Zoom ready as a backup. Use the timer feature to keep the session on track.
2. Make sure everyone’s setup works in advance.
Ensure that everyone’s setup is working well before the session begins. Things like poor internet connectivity or difficulty using tools can be a major nuisance on the day. Let your group know what tools are being used in advance. Send invites to whiteboards in ahead of the session.
3. Give your group an agenda.
Your group will have varying levels of knowledge about affinity diagrams, so be sure to provide enough information upfront. Send your group an agenda for the session, as well as a brief explainer about affinity diagrams. Be clear about the outcomes of the session and what’s expected of them. Share your user research digitally beforehand in a shared folder. Tell your group where this research came from and what they need to do with it.
4. Explain the outcomes of note-taking.
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It’s important to outline best practices for digital note-taking to your group. It’s easy to write more text on digital Post-its because space isn’t a concern, but aim to keep them to one succinct sentence anyway.
5. Prepare your affinity whiteboard in advance.
Include name tags and sticky notes for each participant so that your session runs smoothly on the day.
6. Don’t let your group get lost in the details.
It’s easy to get lost in detail when remote affinity mapping. It can be difficult to see where groupings emerge due to lack of visibility on whiteboards. Encourage your group to speak out if they’ve made a new group or if they’re confused where to place their Post-its. Use the circle and text tools to distinguish between the different groupings.
Timing your affinity diagram session
The timing will depend on how much research you need to sort through, how many people are involved and how familiar they are with the process. Overall, your session shouldn’t last more than 2 or 3 hours. Take short breaks before moving onto a new section.
- Allocate 30 to 60 minutes for note taking.
- Allow around 60 minutes to organise your notes into groupings.
- Set aside 30 to 60 minutes at the end to summarise your groupings.
How to use your affinity diagram
After you’ve finished affinity diagramming and discovered your groupings, it’s time to move forward with the UX design process.
Your findings will act as the benchmark for further refining your user research (in items like personas and customer journey maps), and inform your overall design decisions.
Affinity diagrams may sound complicated, but they are really just a way to make sense of the information you’ve researched. Be confident in what you’re talking about, and try not to overthink them.
You can read more about UX tools here or click below to learn more about UX training.
When it comes to categorizing information, nothing is obvious. The way you perceive one bit of information can (and often will) differ from the next person. Why? Well, explaining that is difficult because it’s a bit like trying to explain how your brain works. Rather than getting to the bottom of neurons and synapses, UX researchers came up with a method for categorizing and sorting information using an affinity diagram, called affinity mapping.
What is affinity mapping?
Affinity mapping, sometimes also known as affinity diagramming, snowballing, or collaborative sorting, is the process of creating an affinity diagram. Simply, it’s when you gather qualitative information about your users and group it by category.
To get started with affinity mapping, you need to gather information about your users through usability testing, surveys, observation, or any other method for collecting feedback. Once garnered, you’ll need to write out each idea or finding on movable cards, like sticky notes. Then, you’ll need a large space (or a real-time online whiteboard) where you can stick, organize, and rearrange the ideas.
But what exactly are you trying to create by rearranging all these sticky notes? An affinity diagram, of course.
What is an affinity diagram?
An affinity diagram, sometimes also known as a cluster map, is used to organize information and is the output of affinity mapping. Affinity diagrams help organize information into groups of similar items—particularly useful when analyzing qualitative data or observations.
When it comes to UX, understanding your users’ needs can be complicated. You have multiple sources for collecting customer insights or feedback beyond usability tests, like support tickets, customer service chats, interviews, and much more. But all of this information doesn’t reduce down to a number or statistic that can be measured against a KPI. That’s why making qualitative data actionable can be difficult, not to mention ambiguous.
With the use of an affinity diagram, design, research, and product teams are one step closer to synthesizing qualitative data—from multiple sources—into one, actionable visual.
How to use affinity diagrams for analyzing user research
User research is used to understand the needs, behaviors, and motivations of users in order to deliver an exceptional user experience. While monitoring click-paths, conversions, and other forms of quantitative data is useful, truly delighting your user requires you to pay attention to the things only uncovered during qualitative discovery. However, this information isn’t as easily synthesized as quantitative data, as mentioned earlier.
Commonly, user research is digested through thematic analysis. During thematic analysis, you aim to make sense of all the notes, observations, and discoveries you’ve documented across all your information sources, by creating themes to organize the information and build throughlines across every individual idea. If you haven’t guessed it already, an affinity diagram is an excellent tool for thematic analysis.
Depending on your role and the type of research you conduct, the themes you create for your affinity diagram can vary. Here are some examples of affinity groups that you could form from your UX research:
- User sentiment and facial expressions when completing certain tasks
- Frequently used words or phrases when describing a product or experience
- Suggestions for improving your product or experience
How to create a traditional affinity diagram in five easy steps
- Record all notes or observations on individual cards or sticky notes
- Look for patterns in notes or observations that are related and group them
- Create a group for each pattern or theme
- Give each theme or group a name
- Create a statement of what you learned about each group (provide your analysis or key insight)
Now that you’ve completed your affinity diagram, it’s likely time for you to share your findings with the larger group. This could include key stakeholders within your team or even the c-suite. So, surely, you want to make a good impression that tells a strong story. Unfortunately, the traditional method for affinity mapping isn’t very shareable—as whiteboards and office walls aren’t easily transported.
Make sense of your research remotely with a virtual affinity diagram template
We’re excited to announce that we’ve partnered with InVision to create an affinity diagram template for teams to organize ideas and data to collaborate remotely in real-time. The template is available in InVision’s online whiteboard, Freehand, and is completely free to use.
How to use the affinity diagram template
Step 1:Import your data from UX research
Bring your ideas to the table by creating a virtual sticky for each data point. If multiple people are collaborating on research, work synchronously and allow each person a place to record their observations.
Step 2: Look for patterns and sort by theme
Ask your team to help organize your stickies into groups. Watch each member of the team make their own connections between the data points.
Step 3: Name the groups
When every sticky has a spot, discuss what makes them similar and name each group.
Step 4: Speak up
Use Freehand reactions (animated emojis to provide feedback in real-time) to vote on each category’s priority, value, and impact on the business.
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Step 5: Add content
Drop in any video, photo, or other content that can reinforce each group’s theme. Add each piece of content to the Freehand for reference after your mapping session is complete.
At the end of your session, your team will better be able to synthesize your UX research methods into a more thorough understanding of your data with an easy-to-use affinity diagram template.
Check out the new Freehand template gallery today, filled with inspiring templates contributed by industry leaders. And start using the UserTesting Affinity Diagram template to accelerate your qualitative research analysis, as well as other templates for brainstorming, sprint planning, and more.