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Affinity diagramming is a great way to synthesize and categorize large amounts of data.  We tend to use them often for making sense of use cases we learned about in user research.

What is an Affinity Diagram

Affinity diagrams help to synthesize large amounts of data by finding relationships between ideas.

When to create Affinity Diagrams

According to the folks at (, Affinity diagrams can be used to:

  • Draw out common themes from a large amount of information.
  • Discover previously unseen connections between various ideas or information.
  • Brainstorm root causes and solutions to a problem.

Affinity diagrams are a great tool for making sense of large amounts of information and alleviate information overload.

How To Do Affinity Diagramming

We tend to use post-it notes and either the wall or large pieces of post-it note easel paper. The easel paper works great if you might need to move your subgroups around.

  1. Record each idea on cards or notes
  2. Look for ideas that seem to be related
  3. Sort cards into groups until all cards have been used.

During user research, you gathered a lot of data on your users and their use contexts.  This data is now stored somewhere and you need to analyze it and make sense of it.  Here are the steps you need to take to get this seemingly overwhelming task accomplished.

Pre-Affinity Diagramming

  • All raw data from each CI is stored in a common location
  • The CI teams have met throughout the CI process to discuss high level findings.  You want to make sure going into your User Modeling exercise that your team is primed on the data.
  • High level summaries of the data have been created.
  • Your team has a good understanding of the design/problem space and what categories or questions you are trying to find answers to
  • You have gathered your team in a room with white boards, post-it notes, flip charts, all the data, coffee and lots of time
  • Have team members write their observations onto post-it notes before attending the User Modeling sessions - this will save lots of time

During Affinity Diagramming

  • Gather your team in a room with lots of coffee and food - you'll be there a while (smile)
  • Make sure the room has lots of open wall space
  • Realistically User Modeling will take a few days depending on how much data must be reviewed
  • Begin by reviewing the research goals the CIs are trying to address
  • If for example you had several "roles" of users you observed, focus on one role at a time, say "instructors".
    • Have each CI team give a brief overview of their high level findings
    • Next have the teams start to place their observations (written on post-it notes) on the walls in the room
    • After all teams' post-it note observations are on the walls, have the teams go around and try to move the post-its into "categories"
    • if an observation belongs in more than one category, have the person write it on another post-it note.  Don't remove from someone else's category
    • When all team members have done their "walk around" to organize post-it notes, you can move onto the next step
    • Now have team members try and name the categories they are seeing for each category.  A category can have more than one name.  This is where "patterns" begin to emerge.

Post-User Modeling 

  • Share the affinity diagrams with the larger project team
  • Share out any models you create based on the affinity diagrams, like Personas and User Scenarios
  • Are there still any gaps of understanding you have?  Are further CIs needed?
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