UX RESEARCH

Affinity Mapping

Better align your team with effective innovative affinity mapping.

What is affinity mapping?

Affinity mapping is a method which can help you gather large amounts of data and organise them into groups or themes based on their relationships.

In order to develop, innovate and grow, organisations must cultivate some uniquely creative ideas, and the most widely used method to kick-start these creative processes is through brainstorming. 

Although generating several ideas can eventually lead you to the best solution in the end, the abundance of information that is created or collected, can quickly become overwhelming. This is where affinity mapping comes into support your team. Let’s check out what affinity mapping is all about.

Affinity mapping or affinity diagrams are extremely useful in organising and categorising a large amount of information, especially if there’s a mixed amount of data. This data could include: 

  • Brainstorm ideas and opinions
  • User opinions
  • User needs
  • Specific insights
  • Design issues
  • Ethnographic research
  • And more

Affinity mapping enables you to easily and collaboratively sort through all this information to organise them into distinct clusters, which can be extremely valuable when trying to reach a group consensus or conclusion regarding a topic. 

Learn more about affinity mapping in the following sessions:

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Why is affinity mapping important in UX design?

There are two main reasons why affinity mapping is used, especially in UX/UI design: 

1Categorise large volumes of qualitative data

Qualitative data – or categorical data – can be grouped according to categories. As qualitative data cannot be grouped numerically like quantitative data, they are grouped into categories based on traits or characteristics of the information gathered.

2Generate new and unique ideas

Conducting an affinity mapping session can lead to a large generation of new and unique ideas due to the nature of how they are conducted. Affinity mapping starts from a mere brainstorming session where all ideas from everyone are considered without judgement or criticism. 

Here are some examples of scenarios where affinity mapping could be used:

Scenario #1: After brainstorming exercise

Example: When you are confronted with many facts or ideas in apparent chaos

How affinity mapping helps: Provides connections between ideas for similarities and differences, also filters out irrelevant information to focus on important ones

Scenario #2: When analysing verbal data or survey results

Example: When issues seem too large and complex to grasp

How affinity mapping helps: Improve efficiency of time as large amounts of information are organised into more tangible pieces

Scenario #3: When trying to spark initial discussions on problems when there’s little input from team

Example: When group consensus is necessary

How affinity mapping helps: Promotes opportunities for collaborative work and creates a clear and unified vision among teams

All in all, affinity mapping can be used in a variety of scenarios to provide different advantages to the development process of your digital product. 

Examples of affinity maps

Affinity mapping can be used to organise and make sense of various ideas generated during a project’s research phase. For instance, they can be used to generate user personas and customer journey maps.

Graphic explaining us

User personas

Qualitative data about users derived from affinity maps can be organised into different categories. 

These categories help design teams determine the number of user personas that the digital product is targeting. 

Ultimately, this helps create a digital product that better captures its target audience.

Customer journey maps

Affinity map information can also be organised into three categories: the customer’s hopes, fears and ideas.

These categories will form the basis of customer journey maps, which will help us better understand how customers will interact with the digital product throughout their purchase journey. 

How will affinity mapping benefit your business?

Affinity maps can provide a myriad of possibilities, opportunities and overall benefits to your business. For every minute spent organising data and information, an hour is earned. 

Here are some benefits of conducting an affinity mapping session for your business:

1Prioritisation of issues for an agile environment

When brainstorming sessions are conducted in an unorganised way, it can become difficult to prioritise what is actually important. Affinity mapping allows you to sift through the valuable information from the useless noise. 

Affinity maps also encourage team contribution, allowing all team members to discuss and vote on the most important issues to prioritise when planning out a digital product. This will help speed up the design and development process, saving time and money for businesses.

2Gain shared team understanding, increase team building and consensus

As affinity mapping is tackled collaboratively as a team, all team members can voice their views and suggestions about the digital product. This will often bring to light new information or insights that would have been ignored otherwise. 

Additionally, the collaborative nature of affinity mapping will also help build an overall consensus or a shared vision, improving the overall quality of the digital product’s design.

3Avoid time-consuming design changes

Affinity maps help your business avoid time-consuming design changes and fixes that could have been highlighted early on in the process. By summarising design directions together as a team, affinity maps help speed up the design process and allows the product to be moved on to the development phase faster. 

Furthermore, since all participants can speak openly about design plans and how they are planning to change it during this session, time is not wasted on having to wait for approvals from different teams. 

All in all, affinity mapping brings order to the chaos by aiding teams in organising and managing information, allowing your digital product to be launched at a much faster timeframe.

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Steps for affinity mapping

A three-phase process.

We organise our affinity mapping process into three distinct phases: before the affinity mapping session, during the session and after the session. 
Below, we’ve laid out in detail how we conduct affinity mapping sessions at Morphosis.

Before the affinity mapping session

1. Determine the materials and resources needed

Before conducting an affinity mapping session, you’ll need to gather a few different supplies. These may include: 

  • Sticky notes (of different colours)
  • Pens and pencils 

Other than that, you’ll need an empty room with some clean walls to attach the sticky notes to. Treat it like a blank canvas where you’ll be able to see everyones thoughts and feelings in one place. 

2. Write up the notes 

Time to write up all the information you’ve collected onto your post-it notes. Take advantage of the different colours that you have in organising the information. 

Our advice would be to use different colours to represent different test participants from your user testing or user interview sessions. This makes it easier to see where each piece of information, opinion or insight, is derived from. 

Once these post-it notes have been written, place them randomly all over the walls for members to pick up and place. 

3. Create some category names

It’s also useful to create a few different category names to help kick off the affinity mapping session. These category names can be changed to something more specific or appropriate as the mapping session continues. However, having basic set category names in the beginning will help members know where to put their sticky notes. 

During the affinity mapping session

1. Announce steps and timing guidelines

It’s almost time to begin the affinity mapping session, but before letting members start sorting and organising, it is crucial that a delegated leader announces the steps of this session and the timing guidelines. 

This will help avoid any confusion members may have and ensure that everything is done effectively. This delegated leader should explain the steps to take during the session and describe the process of each step. 

These steps generally includes the following:

  • Pick a category
  • Sort post-its into top-level categories
  • Sort each of those categories into subcategories
  • Summarise those categories
  • Determine priorities (votes)
  • Plan design meetings as needed

In addition to this, the delegated leader should also emphasize that sorting these notes should come from a gut feeling, and to not over analyse any choice for a prolonged amount of time. This ensures that these categorised notes come from genuine thoughts and feelings, while also making the session more time-efficient.

2. Sort post-its into top-level categories

Here are the steps:

  • Take a post it note
  • Read the note
  • Decide if the note fits your category
  • If it does then place it there

Here are solutions to three of the most common challenges that team members may face during this step:

Duplicate notes

If there is a note that is the same as another existing note, simply stack them on top of one another.

No clear category

If there is a note that doesn’t fall under any existing category then make a new appropriate one.

Unclear notes

If there is a note that you can’t understand then place it into a “?” category where it can be revisited later as a group.

3. Sort each category into subcategories

Now that all the post-it notes are placed in their appropriate categories, we can organise them into subcategories. 

  • Look at post-it notes of your category
  • Try to spot similarities between the notes
  • Name these similarities as these will be the names for the subcategory
  • Place similar notes into subcategories 
  • Repeat for each category

4. Summarise results

After the notes are sorted into subcategories within their own category, it’s time to summarise and present them. 

Stand by your category and read out each finding, then summarise that category with the team. Questions are encouraged, however, they should be relevant and valuable to the category.

After the affinity mapping session

1. Determine priorities 

After everyone has presented their categories, the next step is to determine what to prioritise in the development process following the session, by looking at the number of votes or points each post-it note has. 

For example, you can add a number from 1-10 to each post-it note, 1 being the least severe and 10 being extremely important and highly severe. In the end, these points can be added together to determine which  category has the highest priority.

2. Plan design meetings as needed

As we head towards the end of the meeting, the post-it notes should now be organised, and the different categories should be prioritised. 

The final task involves creating a plan that includes follow-up tasks, a written report or presentation to summarise the affinity mapping results so that they can be shown to the appropriate teams and stakeholders.

The whole process should take approximately 2 to 3 hours, with 10 minute breaks scattered throughout it. Here is a rough guideline of how to manage times for each section:

What is the most effective affinity mapping process?

Affinity mapping is only effective when they are conducted properly by the team leader.

To reap all the benefits of this exercise and give your digital product the competitive edge it needs, here are four recommendations that will make your affinity mapping process more effective.

Delegate

The team leader should delegate affinity mapping tasks to their team members, while also keeping the team focused so that the affinity mapping session can progress within the time-constraint.

Collaborate

To foster a deeper understanding of each design issue that has been put up on the affinity mapping board, collaboration should be encouraged during the affinity mapping sessions.

Don’t set limitations

Avoid setting limits on the number or type of issues that could be included in the affinity map. This will allow more nuanced design issues to come to light, further benefiting the end-product. 

Use super groups

Super groups allow us to organise smaller groups of notes into a larger group. This helps visualise the hierarchy of the issues that have been put forward, allowing us to quickly identify the most important design issues. 

Learn more about our UX / UI design services

At Morphosis, we have a vibrant team of experienced UX designers who are focused at delivering impactful results for our clients. 

We fully embody the belief that ‘people come first’, putting the interests of our clients and the needs and desires of the end users at the forefront of everything we do.Our practised and proven service model includes:

  1. User Research
  2. Digital Product Strategy
  3. UX / UI Design
  4. Web Development
  5. Mobile App Development
  6. And more

Visit our main services page to learn more about how we can help you grow your business today.