EX08 - Affinity Diagrams

Using data to find the path

The act of mapping out details into an easily editable format injects much-needed visibility into our projects.

Updated May 01, 2020

The power of information is intoxicating.

As we collect data, it pushes us into one of two directions — questions or confidence. Both empower designers to craft better solutions, so an internal transformation begins.

Nearly overnight, many designers shift from being research-adverse to developing an unquenchable thirst for more research. Once you’ve sampled the elixir of user research, it can be hard to turn your attention back to the other portions of a project.

Humans love to explore. Especially when the effort feels rewarding. Surveys and User Interviews are both exercises in exploration, but Affinity Diagrams is an opportunity to distill the collected data into themes. This shift is the classic design diamond diagram in action.

When we begin using affinity diagrams (also known as affinity mapping), we enter the world of ubiquitous sticky notes. That’s because you’ll spend most of your time parsing the collected data and hunting for common themes. It helps if you have a format that is easy to move around — hence, sticky notes.

You’ve encountered the expansion and contraction dynamic before during Competitor Research and Analysis, and you will likely reencounter it. The fluid nature of the process encourages me to think of the classic double diamond diagram as an abstraction. The reality of design is always messier than advertised to the masses.

Don’t get too literal

The School Reboot project has some natural themes built-in, but don’t trap yourself in by being too literal. Instead of investigating them directly as statements, abstract them, and look for common threads. Two seemingly unconnected items might both be problems related to location or technology access. By looking for the commonality in your observations, you can illuminate themes that might otherwise stay hidden.

Beyond product design

Whenever you begin analyzing the information collected, you’ll discover a lot of possibilities. Some of those observations will stretch beyond the scope of something that can be solved by building a digital product. These broad, often intangible opportunities fall into the realm of Service Design. While we will circle back to this type of design in a future exercise, know that these make excellent recommendations for your client to pursue but go beyond what we’re going to investigate in this exercise.

Resources for review

Please use the following items to guide your exercise attempt:

Article Source/Author
The craft of surfacing themes New Pragmatic
Collaboratively Sorting UX Findings and Design Ideas Nielsen Norman Group
Loop’d - Affinity Mapping New Pragmatic


Length: Around an hour to complete.

Affinity diagrams are the latest in a series of information distillation methods that you’ll experience in the program. By identifying the common themes that have emerged from your research, you provide yourself a strong foundation to begin building and testing possible solutions.

Instead of a physical wall for your sticky notes, you’ll be using a Figma template to organize your thoughts. If this is your first time using Figma, this would be an excellent time to take a moment to work through our Intro to Figma video tutorial series.

The notes you generate should be observations collected from the following assets:

  • User Interviews
  • Surveys
  • Stakeholder Documents

From each of the items listed above, you should produce a minimum of five-to-10 observations per method utilized and post them for review in your Figma document.

Afterward, begin the grouping of common elements together until three-or-more themes emerge. From these themes, construct action items that we will use in the upcoming user persona and user stories exercises.


Once complete, update your Program Journal with links to any assets produced in this exercise. Post your Journal in the #Feedback-Loop channel for review.


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