Affinity mapping, also known as affinity analysis or sense-making, is a visual technique used to organise and categorise large amounts of data or information.
It is particularly useful where a team is trying to make sense of diverse sets of data and/or generate insights from a variety of information and data points.
Affinity mapping can also be used in the ideation phase, to cluster ideas from brainstorming sessions and find patterns or similarities.
When should Affinity Mapping be done?
Affinity Mapping is usually done after completing rounds of user research and/or feedback cycles. It is done through clustering and analysing data and notes following research activities. You’ll sort ideas into different groups or categories based on their relationships to one another.
An affinity map is an effective tool to use when:
- Your research activities and/or brainstorming/feedback sessions are completed.
- You’re solving a complex problem.
- You have a large number of information, data or ideas to make sense of.
Why is Affinity Mapping beneficial?
- Make sense of information: This tool helps organise large amounts of information/data
- Generating Insights from User Research: It's a common tool in user research to categorize and make sense of data collected from interviews, surveys, and observations.
- Problem-Solving Workshops: It can help in brainstorming and organizing solutions to complex problems.
- Prioritizing Ideas: It can be used to identify the most important or impactful ideas within a set of possibilities.
- Facilitating Collaborative Work: Affinity mapping encourages team collaboration and ensures that everyone's perspectives are considered.
- Visualizing Complex Information: It provides a clear, visual representation of information, making it easier to digest and understand.
How to plan and do Affinity Mapping
Depending on the amount of information that needs to be organised, affinity mapping can be done in one or multiple sessions. Planning Affinity mapping session:
Before the session
- Organise and code information
Organise all your information and data-inputs, referencing the source and participant code (also code information from direct quotes)
- Paste information into sticky notes, paper or a similar tool
Paste information/notes in sticky notes or similar tool that can be easily moved around a wall and/or virtual board.
- Assign a facilitator
Assign a facilitator for the affinity mapping session, to help guide team members through all scheduled steps
During the session
- Review session’s purpose and goal
The facilitator should explain and review with participants all the data inputs and walk them through your research methods (e.g.15 semi-structured user interviews, 50 survey responses)
The facilitator should explain the purpose of the session: review and cluster information from the research/feedback phase.
- Organise information into groups
Team members should then start reading and grouping the information together based on similarities or common themes.
- Share learning with team members
There should be time allocated for team members to discuss the activity and what they found most interesting, surprising and/or relevant.