If you have seen enough videos on design agencies, you would have come across this scene: A bunch of designers animatedly talking in front of a wall full of sticky notes. That arrangement of sticky notes, my friends, is what we UX designers would like to call an affinity map. 

What is an Affinity Diagram in design?

This is a classic tool found in most UX designers’ toolboxes. UI/ UX companies like ours thrive on affinity maps (affinity diagrams) to help our clients understand their user’s journey map.

By relying on this process, designers can make sense of the mountain of data coming in and create cohesive links between concepts or ideas. The purpose of an affinity diagram is simple – it helps you organize facts and opinions. It is all about extracting insights and noticing similarities and is especially useful in strategic phases. It is also helpful for the whole team to take notice, empathize and ideate on what matters. It helps define product requirements and sets the roadmap for all future product features. And this will help identify issues and solve complex problems for the clients.

When should you use an affinity diagram?

As a method, affinity diagramming can be used by individuals as well as groups. It is also a great way to rule out any potentially bad UI elements from your design. In a UX context, it is primarily used by designer teams to:

  1. Observe ideas from a research study
  2. Extract interaction design requirements from the brainstorming sessions
  3. Envision the UX strategy and vision for the client/ prototype

How to start affinity mapping?

UX sounds, if designed well, can help both the users and the app owners with a seamless experience.

First things first. Identify the problem in front of you. Next, you need to jot down the situation for all to see. If the ideas or data have already been shared with the team, skip to step 3.

Write those ideas down

Get your team together or as many heads as possible to brainstorm. This is a great way to determine all aspects of the problem. And at this stage, you should record the ideas using sticky notes on a whiteboard.

Cluster Ideas

Get those sticky notes with similar ideas together. Forming the basis of the flow by clustering ideas, UI UX designers can club similar ideas. We can connect dependencies and develop an even broader group (or clusters) of ideas and solutions.

Create an Affinity Card

As the word describes, Affinity is all about bringing together similar ideas. So after jotting down all the pictures in the second step, now is the time to create an Affinity card. First, identify the header card for each group and assign a short statement that describes the entire group of ideas.

Cluster Ideas

Secondly, connect the dots by placing the affinity cards on a whiteboard or a large sheet of paper. Define affinity clusters by drawing borders around them. The resulting diagram will provide insight into the problem.

hand holding a mobile with notification symbol

What is the affinity process?

The affinity process or affinitizing as it is called, is the process of developing an Affinity Diagram. This is performed by a group or team of ideally five or six participants. This is the time when the ideas are fully formed after hearing through all the perspectives, opinions, and insights from your team and subject-matter experts.

The Main Difference Between Affinity Diagram and Mind Mapping

Mind Mapping and Affinity Maps/ Diagrams are tools used to visualize ideas. Consider mind mapping as a more free-flowing and explorative method. Affinity diagrams are structures that are inherently about categorizing and organizing ideas.

And that is where the similarities end. While both tools are about collating ideas, their purpose is different. Mind Map is radial in representation, almost like a flower. It is hierarchical and involves using one keyword for each branch. It is something that thrives on a single person’s output as well.

An affinity Map is an organized output from a brainstorming session, usually arranged in a logical step-by-step manner or clusters.

hand holding a mobile with notification symbol

Tech tools to help you in affinity mapping

Though there is no harm in doing affinity mapping manually (picture all those whiteboards and sticky notes again), digital tech is there to aid you through this process, especially since we live in a hybrid world where we need to do this with our colleagues working from other corners of the world. 

And there is no dearth of such software. LucidChart, XMind, Mural, and Notion are fantastic starting points. Miro and FigJam are popular with the design community for their no-fuss interface. 

As a leading UI UX design agency Pepper Square loves working with tactile affinity diagrams. (We go through a lot of sticky notes!) We do rely on some of the softwares, such as Miro And FigJam too to  facilitate the hybrid work culture and to share a rough idea with our clients. It also forms an integral part of the UX audit we do.

Reach out to us for UI/UX design services that will elevate your brand

Are you looking for an experience-driven digital solution for your product or service?
Author Alka Jha
Alka is the Chief Creative Officer at Pepper Square. She has defined the user experience for some of the finest global brands over the last eight years.