Using Affinity Diagrams to Organize Data

An affinity diagram is a method of synthesizing that organizes data into groups with common themes or relationships. This activity is usally done as a group or team so that you can organize research data quickly and efficiently. Let’s go through the process step-by-step.

Find a place to create your affinity diagram

You’ll need a large space to put all of your sticky notes. A room with a large whiteboard, window, empty wall, or any other smooth surface with room to plce sticky notes is best.

Tips: COVID-19 has changed the way we work, so online calborating has become inevitable to the team. These are online colloboration tools that you might need to consider: Miro and Mural. They both offer an Education Plan for students. Other tools to consider: Jamboard by Google, Notely, and Padlet.

Affinity Map – Golden Donuts by Lylyna Heng

Create sticky notes

All of the observations from your research study participants need to be transferred onto individual sticky notes.

  • If you took note using paper or spreadsheet, then you would need to transfer all of the observations and quotes from the participants onto sticky notes.
  • If you or the study moderator took notes on sticky notes during the usability study, then you can skip this step or make a revisions to the sticky notes you’ve already written.

There are going to be a lot of sticky notes that each lists a single idea, observation, or direct quote from a participant. The information on each sticky note should be no longer than one sentence, and the sentence should make sense without explanation so that it’s easy for everyone to understand quickly. Including context of the action is a good practice. For instance, “hard to read” would not make a good sticky note because it is too vauge. Instead, “hard to read text on homepage”, gives your team enough context to understand what the note is about.

When using or including the exact quotes from the participants, those expressions need to put in the quotation mark. However, if you summary the participant ideas or point of view, there is no need to use the quotation mark. A brief sentence would do the work.

Created with Miro by Lylyna Heng

Sorting the sticky notes into groups

With all the sticky notes ready to go, it’s time to cluster the observations and quotes into groups. You can either list a couple of groups to get started, or you can come up with group names as you go. There might be some groups that you have already to know when you were creating sticky notes. Well, in this case you have the group ready and then create a new one on the go.

Continue until there are no sticky notes remaining

Try to categorize as many of your sticky notes as possible, which will ensure that all feedback from participants is represented in distinct groups. Ideally, you should end up with three to ten groups. If there are a few sticky notes that don’t belong in any of the groups you made, that’s normal; sometimes only one person in your study had a problem with a feature or experience. But you should strongly consider the observation or quote, and determine if it should stand alone in its own group or receive further consideration before disregarding it entirely.

Do a second review

There are no right or wrong answers in the affinity map, so it is ok for any changes during the second review. You might want to consider subgroups for a group that has a lot of sticky notes.

Create your own affinity diagram

Affinity diagram can be useful when you have a lot of data to sort out the patterns and make plan for iterating on your product. It helps you group together research insights so that you can further understand and define the problems in your product and design.

In addition, the interactive and visual format of affinity mapping allows you to make connections within your data that you may not have noticed by simply reading through your notes. This helps you think of new, creative ways to solve user problems.

To learn more about affinity diagram, check out this article from Nielsen Norman Group that highlights some best practices for affinity diagramming.

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