Conducting user research can be a very time-consuming process.

Thankfully, analyzing and making sense of the data doesn’t need to take as long – just as long as the right methods are used.

And as UX designers, there is no better method than the affinity diagram.

An affinity diagram is the perfect tool to work through large quantities of information efficiently and to identify natural patterns of grouping while fostering collaboration and consensus.

It can also be done solo, and if you’re the only person working on a project, this may have to be the case. But part of its power is in its collaboration that results in different perspectives being taken into account.

The Affinity Diagram Process

Creating an affinity diagram is a simple process. All you need to begin are a stack of Post-it notes, some pens and a wall or whiteboard to stick the Post-its on.

The process involves 3 steps.

Step 1

  • Share all the research

Say, you ran some usability tests, sent out some surveys, interviewed a few users and viewed the analytics. This gave you a whole lot of data. And as you’re the one who conducted the research you have a good understanding of it.

But what about everyone else who wasn’t involved in the research process?

To get everyone up to scratch, you want to share all this data with the team before the process begins.

  • Allow time to digest

As you want everyone on the team to have a complete understanding of the research, you need to give everyone time to fully digest all this data – say a day or two.

  • Take notes

This shouldn’t just be a passive process where team members just read or watch the research either. Notes should be taken so everyone is engaged with and has a firm grasp of the research.

Step 2

  • Hand out pens and Post-it notes

The process of creating the affinity diagram can now begin. It starts by handing everybody on the team a pen and a stack of Post-it notes.

  • Write down one observation per Post-it

Ask everyone to write one observation per Post-it note, and there is no limit to how many observations a person can make.

Each observation should be descriptive and aim to be helpful in terms of improving the product. So, you don’t just write down “Menu”, but you write down what the issue with the menu is.

Each post-it note is stuck onto the wall or whiteboard.

  • Do it in silence

It’s important that the process is carried out in silence. This allows everyone on the team to share their perspective, including those who might usually have trouble speaking up.

  • 10-60 minutes

Stop when everyone has run out of ideas. This usually takes anywhere between 10 minutes to an hour.

Step 3

  • Group related Post-it notes

At this stage you have a whole lot of Post-it notes stuck onto the wall or a whiteboard. You now need to try and make sense of all these observations by grouping related Post-it notes together. Everybody starts placing each Post-it into groups that make sense to them.

  • Encourage discussion

This shouldn’t be done in silence. Discussion should be encouraged so each person can understand what the other person is doing.

  • Get specific

You want to try and get as specific as possible. The more specific you get, the more useful the information becomes when you start designing.

  • 30 minutes +

This step usually takes at least 30 minutes and can last several hours.

  • Name each group

The last thing you do is take a look at the sorted Post-its and come up with a relevant group name that describes them.

The Benefits of Using an Affinity Diagram

The main benefit of an affinity diagram is that it allows you to transform a wealth of raw data into actionable insights. But here are four more specific benefits.

  • Efficient: There is no faster or better way to make sense of all your research data than through an affinity diagram. Much of this is to do with how collaborative the process is, but even when working solo there is no other method that is as efficient to analyze your data
  • Shared understanding: As every member on the team has been part of the process and has had a say, everyone now knows what everybody else is thinking.
  • Consensus: A consensus is naturally built throughout the process. This prevents time being wasted on arguing different viewpoints, ensuring you can get designing as soon as possible
  • Involved: It can sometimes be tough to get juniors and introverts to speak up when there are seniors and extroverts present. The beauty of an affinity diagram is that everyone can have their say, particularly as much of the process is done is silence