Affinity mapping is an excellent tool that can assist teams and individuals in efficiently organizing and analyzing vast volumes of information. It is a method that is frequently used to help discover patterns, insights, and themes from large, complicated data sets in design thinking, project management, and problem-solving processes.
This article will explore affinity mapping, how to do it yourself, and ways you can use it to organize and synthesize your research process.
Table of contents
- What is affinity mapping?
- What is an affinity diagram?
- How can affinity mapping help with UX research?
- How to do affinity mapping
- How to conduct UX affinity mapping for synthesizing research?
- What are the benefits of affinity mapping?
- Why affinity mapping is essential to user research
- Ready for your first affinity map?
What is affinity mapping?
Affinity mapping is a simple way to group and organize a large amount of information. This can be any information such as user feedback, or design ideas. It helps you see relations clearer, so you can make better decisions and move on in a way that’s good for you, your career, and your clients.
What is an affinity diagram?
An affinity diagram or an affinity map is the result of the affinity mapping process. It is a visual representation of how individual pieces of information are related to each other and grouped.
You can see which issues are most relevant by the number of cards sorted into each group. Therefore, it helps you to prioritize what to work on next.
Here’s a great affinity diagram example by Abinash Mohanty from Dribbbel:
How can affinity mapping help with UX research?
User research involves many methods that yield large amounts of data and types of user feedback. This data, especially qualitative data, can be rather difficult to analyze in bulk and draw meaningful insight and conclusions from.
That is where affinity mapping can greatly help. An affinity diagram helps synthesize large amounts of qualitative research data such as from user interviews, user surveys, usability testing, session recordings, and other sources of product feedback such as support tickets, bug reports, or user reviews. You can also organize notes and observations from your colleagues, that can differ from your own.
By conducting affinity mapping you can quickly organize your research data and spot any recurring issues and what issues are most important.
How to do affinity mapping
Affinity mapping is an easy process in itself. It typically consists of 4 basic steps, each of which can be customized to suit your specific situation:
- Gather the data you want to sort
- Write the information on sticky notes
- Form clusters of related notes
- Consider and debate the developed themes
You can use affinity mapping to organize any type of data, however, we will explore how exactly to do UX affinity mapping to synthesize research.
💡Tip: Learn more about UX research.
How to conduct affinity mapping for synthesizing research?
The role of the UX researcher is to put all UX research data together and extract the most valuable insights about the current and future needs that users will have for your product. UX Affinity mapping will help to put everything together and identify any patterns.
1. Gather UX research data
Creating an affinity map starts by gathering the data you have. Collect all data from usability testing, moderated interviews, observations, surveys, support tickets, and so on. If you are working in a team, consult your team members they might have insights about user behavior other than yours.
2. Write all the information on sticky notes
Always remember that one sticky note = one piece of information. Some users might comment on multiple issues at once, nevertheless, make sure to write the information down individually, so that you can sort them out individually. The goal is to get as many sticky notes as possible.
However, remember, the more information you write down, the longer it will take to sort them. This is why it’s important to be thorough in finding the balance between the time you spend and the amount of UX data you want to sort.
3. Organize the sticky notes
Grab a sticky note, read it, and pin it in one place. Take another note, read it, consult what already sorted notes it is related to and pin it close to or far from other notes accordingly. If you’re working in a group, give people a clear timeline and do this categorization together.
You should have 3-10 related groups you can name with common themes. Remember that you or your team should never decide on categories before the brainstorming session. Organize your notes first, and the topics should emerge organically.
If you don’t want to use sticky notes, you can do affinity mapping digitally by using a Card Sorting tool. With UXtweak it’s free and allows you to conduct X affinity mapping without having to deal with tons of paper cards. Moreover, you can involve anyone from all around the world, no need to gather your teammates in one room.
4. Review the emerged categories and consult
Once the affinity diagram is complete, take stock of the themes emerging. You can give short descriptive names to the newly created categories.
This is the step when you and your team discuss what themes are crucial, what problems are defined and what issues should be solved with a priority. You may see a lot of notes accumulated under one theme, while the next theme has only a couple of notes. The topics with more mentions would usually be prioritized.
What are the benefits of affinity mapping?
It helps in understanding your users
Affinity mapping is considered one of the best ways to understand users’ needs and wants. Researchers and people working on the affinity diagram are able to immerse themselves in the user’s mindset. This understanding is a sure way to improve the overall quality of your product or service.
Promotes effective teamwork
Affinity mapping is often conducted in a team setting as a collaborative activity of the UX research or design team. It promotes discussions and shared understanding among team members, as they collectively group and categorize information. This can lead to better insights and a more holistic understanding of the user experience.
The diagram aids web and app designers in making sense of the intricate web of user requirements. Other than usability tests, interviews, chats, and other methods, you have many options for gathering customer feedback. Designers can effectively combine qualitative data from various sources into an understandable visual diagram using the affinity diagram.
As related concepts are grouped together, you can more easily identify which issues or opportunities are most frequently mentioned or are of the highest importance to users. This helps you prioritize design decisions and focus on the most impactful areas.
Affinity mapping example
This UX case study from Alina Stepanova, uses affinity diagrams to organize key feedback and issues from user interviews. The purpose of this UX research study is to explore design ideas and user needs in order to develop a travel tour booking application.
Why is affinity mapping essential to user research?
Whenever you’re working on a new product, it’s important to remember that your users are the most important aspect of your business. They want a good experience with the product or service, and the best way to give them that amazing experience is by understanding the customers.
An affinity diagram gives you a better understanding of your customer’s needs. This research process will help you arrange your user interviews and market research to pinpoint areas that need improvement and create a plan.
Ready for your first affinity map?
Gather those sticky notes and pens out, or try our online tool that can make your affinity mapping session easier. Register for your free UXtweak account and create affinity maps with our free card-sorting tool!