Research & understanding

Affinity diagram

Ludovic Delmas
October 14, 2020

Have you ever watched a detective show? If you have, then you’ve likely seen the cork boards they use to link suspects and incidents, usually with strings and thumbtacks. 

Those boards help connect the dots for detectives so they can see the connections. This cork board activity is to detective shows what an affinity diagram is to UX.  

Affinity diagramming is a visual method you use to group chunks of data into meaningful insights. 

You do this by writing pieces of research data down on sticky notes and then grouping them with similar pieces of information with which they have an affinity.

Affinity diagrams help you understand large sets of data and visualize the relationships between different groups. 

It’s important to point out that there’s no right or wrong to affinity diagramming. Our analytical minds want to be right. Someone else could see the same data and come up with completely different groupings. Let the data speak for itself.

You can then rank your groups by most important to least important based on what you have heard from user feedback. The goal of this entire activity is to categorize all of the stickies into groups so you can make sense of the large amounts of data by identifying patterns. 

Typically, we create affinity diagrams with people on our team like the product manager and user researcher. Doing this with a group helps bring additional perspectives to the table, ensuring that the final groupings are well thought out. 

When you conduct this with a team, the process of grouping stickies should be silent. When no one’s allowed to speak, no one gets tangled up in verbiage. It helps everyone maintain a focus on the groupings.  Doing this silently levels the playing field. There’s no discussion so no one can dominate the discussion. 

Use an affinity diagram to:

Make sense of large data sense.

Group data into meaningful insights/overarching themes.

Visualize relationships between different groups of data.

Help you build a persona.

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