How to Prepare and Use an Affinity Diagram

“Affinity diagrams” are a UX designer’s tool, used to capture and synthesise qualitative data. This tutorial will look at preparation, recruitment, building an interview guide, interviewing, extraction, and finally synthesis! Additionally, I’ll explain how to use your affinity diagram to create UX artefacts such as personas and customer journey maps.

How to Prepare and Use an Affinity Diagram

I will also aim to give you an insight as to why you should conduct these activities and what they can mean for your organisation and having a better design process. One that will make your decision making more user centric!

How to Prepare an Affinity Diagram

Recruitment

The first step to preparing an affinity diagram is recruitment! Get in touch with your marketing team and provide them with a spec of the type of people you might want to capture insights from. The marketing team might have a template handy to help you articulate your needs.

You will also want to discuss the reach of any email blast used, which will likely target customers within centralised locations, such as a central business district. If your office isn’t located in a convenient area try to organise one that is! The easier it is for your users to make it to the place on their lunch break etc, the more likely you are to get some willing interviewees. Also make sure to give marketing ample time to organise the copy and email.

Interview Guide

Building an interview guide helps when you know what you’re going to need in your affinity diagram. For example, mine are generally based around biographical questions, frustrations, motivations, goals, interactions and touch points, so your questions should reflect this. You should steer clear of capturing data that is “solution” oriented and get data that is more process oriented. Your aim is to understand how users do whatever it is that they do.

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Interviewing

When you interview, make sure you make the person feel comfortable. Use your soft skills to gauge how they’re feeling; are they in a rush? Comfortable? Perhaps a bit cagey? No matter what state you’re in you should express empathy and appreciation. If they’re perhaps a bit skeptical you can reiterate your incentive (e.g. $100 gift card). However, in my experience interviewees are generally pretty accommodating.

If you ask a question and it raises more questions make sure that you probe further into what they meant. It’s your job to be naturally inquisitive and draw out as much information as possible. It’s outside of the scope to really look at this in detail, but I would advise you steer clear from Yes/No responses. This is a combination of how your questions are framed and how you interact with your interviewee.

Extraction

In my experience, it’s best to record all of your interviews and re-listen to them as you transfer the insights on to post-it notes. This is because when you capture notes you often write in a different tense, or reword things, so they can often lose their meaning. Start each post-it note from the perspective of the user, so “I…”

For each person that you spoke with, choose a different colour post-it note. For example, for “Sam” I have used pink post it notes, “Ray” yellow and “Kelvin” green. This is so that at a high level I can collectively see the different frustrations, motivations and interactions of each person, but I can also see them together as a whole (i.e. problems the business is having).

At this stage you’re not aiming to organise any of your qualitative data. You just need to list it all out!

How to Prepare and Use an Affinity Diagram

Synthesis

Once you’ve finished capturing your insights onto post-it notes, you can start to arrange them into clusters that make sense to you! In the example below I have organised them into:

  1. biographical information
  2. frustrations
  3. interactions/touch points
  4. goals/motivations

Use categories that make sense to you. Once you have finalised the different categories and groupings you might get a third party to have a look and help you reorganise. In my experience, once I go to the next phase of entering this information into personas and customer journey maps I find that some of these may make sense in some other grouping or category.

How to Prepare and Use an Affinity Diagram

How to Use an Affinity Diagram

Having created our affinity diagram, let’s see how we actually go about using it.

Creating Personas

Creating personas using affinity diagramming is ideal, because you’re using “factual” qualitative data. You are speaking to a real person. Often, what happens is people in companies that wear the “UX hat” will create a persona based on internal knowledge. They don’t have the drive (and often the backing) to go through a process of recruitment, interviewing, data extraction and synthesis. Likewise, with interviewing, the attitude is “let’s do hallway usability testing”. This doesn’t really give you any answers, because a product might be usable, but not effective. For example, a quote form may work well, but end users may not understand why they are doing it or how it’s valuable to them.

When crafting your personas. I use UXPressia. It’s always being updated and, as far as I know, is the only decent tool online for creating customer journey maps. The personas are very good too, especially the view that allows you to compare multiple personas side-by-side.

How to Prepare and Use an Affinity Diagram

In my experience, from the qualitative data captured above, the most relevant categories to include are as follows:

  1. biographical information
  2. goals/motivations
  3. frustrations

The fourth type of data captured in your interviews can be used in the next section (creating customer journey maps, see below).

With the personas you can start to get an idea of your actual users and their needs. They only get better with more research. So, after an initial round of interviews you can go through the process again and revise the personas further. These are then used in conjunction with your customer journey map to help you make decisions later on in the design process.

How to Prepare and Use an Affinity Diagram

Creating Customer Journey Maps

Once you’ve created your persona using the qualitative data from the affinity diagrams you may have started to challenge some of your previous assumptions and hypotheses. Now it is time to hone in on each individual touch point.

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In my experience you can hone in on one particular touch point or holistically work to improve the whole journey. However, in the context of affinity diagramming you can use the data you’ve captured to create a rough outline. You can also use internal systems to flesh out more of this detail. For example, for this project I used a lead management system to understand each time a customer was contacted by a consultant and which platforms they used at each step (of the digital process). As it’s difficult to tell what happens during those non-digital touch points, it may be a good opportunity to gear some of your questions around that.

How to Prepare and Use an Affinity Diagram

Conclusion

There is a great deal of inertia needed when organising and undertaking this type of user experience activity. The job cannot be done half-heartedly. You need to go through the effort of recruitment, interviewing, listening back to the audio, extracting data, synthesising and creating UX artefacts.

As it can be difficult to communicate the value, and there may be a cost to the organisation, I’d suggest doing it in conjunction with a user testing activity.

Once you become familiar with how to prepare and use an affinity diagram you will start to see that it’s an incredibly valuable activity for synthesising data. And when key stakeholders in your organisation start to see how it can work, it will be much easier for you to repeat the process throughout the year.