Affinity Diagram: Bridging The Gap Between UX Research And Personas

The output from Contextual Inquiry is not a neat hierarchy; rather, it is narratives of successes and breakdowns, examples of use that entail context, and messy use artifacts. – Observing the User Experience: A Practitioner’s Guide to User Research Book

Bridging the gap between user research raw data and creating personas is one of the biggest challenges for UX designers.
UX designers need to transform insights, problems, observations, ideas, concerns and pain points into a concrete format to be able to understand their users in a holistic way .



What is affinity diagram?


affinity diagram


An Affinity Diagram is a tool that gathers large amounts of language data (ideas,
opinions, issues) and organizes them into groupings based on their natural
Relationships. – Balanced Scorecard Institute

Affinity diagrams are an inductive technique where the small units (An idea or a problem) are created first and then grouped together forming bigger groups. It’s about finding relations between small units and create meaningful groups.



How to bridge the gap?


bridging the gap


Once the UX designers finish their user research (Contextual inquiry, surveys and user interviews), they are faced with a lot of raw data, insights, and concerns and with the goal of understanding and synthesizing all these data and insights.

An affinity diagram is built by listening to all research recording, notes, and pictures and moving all these digital data into the physical world through sticky notes (Each sticky note has only one information or insight). Creating 50-100 sticky notes for each user interview will result in 250-500 sticky notes for all the research that you and your team will start moving and grouping together to start making sense of all these data.



3 Steps to create an affinity diagram


1- Go Physical


writing sticky notes


The first step is to take all data collected and write them down on yellow sticky notes, each sticky note must have only one information, insight, problem or pain point.
Make sure to keep a note that reference to the original transcript or source of information to return back when need to (Use U1, U2 & U3 to refer to your users).


2- Group & Label


affinity diagram


In their book Contextual Design, Karen Holtzblatt & Hugh Beyer suggested using four colors for sticky notes:

  • Yellow: The building blocks of the affinity diagram, each yellow note represents a single observation, idea, pain point or insight.
  • Blue: A group of yellow sticky notes (Two to four notes is the best) grouped together.
  • Pink: A higher level groups containing blue sticky notes.
  • Green: The top level grouping which contains a group of pink sticky notes.

Groups are built from the bottom (Yellow sticky notes) to the top (Green sticky notes). The hierarchical structure makes it easy for you and your team to make information organized and easy to understand.

Labeling groups is better to be in a story language, from the point of view of the user talking directly to the team. It increases the emotional connection and the empathy.


3- What’s Next?




Finishing the affinity diagram will give you and your team a holistic view for all the user research you have done and you will be able to see the full picture. The next step could be building the personas and user journeys.



Affinity diagrams are one of the simplest yet effective tools that can help you a lot in analyzing and synthesizing your user research data and helps you a lot in bridging the gap between raw data and full picture of your users.





Contextual Design: Defining Customer-Centered Systems (Interactive Technologies)

Universal Methods of Design: 100 Ways to Research Complex Problems, Develop Innovative Ideas, and Design Effective Solutions

Observing the User Experience, Second Edition: A Practitioner’s Guide to User Research



I'm a senior product designer with extensive experience in building and designing digital products.I help building successful products that make people's life more easier.

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