To the untrained eye, an affinity diagram may look very scientific, confusing and messy. But what you are viewing is actually a simple, yet powerful technique used in the early stages of Acquity Group’s design process. Interaction Designers use these affinity diagrams to help diagnose complicated problems through collecting, grouping, organizing and analyzing feedback and findings from up-front research studies. Within these diagrams, we begin to make connections and identify the experience gaps during the “Evaluation” phase of the Acquity Group Design process.
So what are the first steps an interaction designer will take when beginning an affinity diagram? Usually, these diagrams need a fairly large space to work with, but you could start by using over-sized presentation boards (the ones that look like gigantic sticky notes) and line the walls with these boards. Within Acquity Group’s Chicago Studio space, we have large floor to ceiling wipe board walls we can assign to specific projects, and these are ideal for this exercise.
Once I have wall space assigned, I start collecting my data and feedback from a variety of sources (stakeholder, customer interviews, on-site evaluations and brainstorms) and writing this information down on regular sized sticky notes. (As a lover of sticky notes, the ones I like to use are the sticky notes with the rounded corners, as they seem to have the greatest sticking power.) As I begin to place the notes up on the wall, I start to collate items that go together or are similar in some way. There is a lot of shuffling of stickies as more data gets added to the wall, and I can visually see the high level categories forming. I often draw images and/or paths to help document the emerging themes and to make the connections more apparent. Frequently, I have to take a second pass at breaking down the higher-level categories into subgroups. This process can take any where from a few hours to a few weeks, depending upon how much data is collected and added to the wall and how quickly large data sets are broken up into groupings.
The next step I take is to interpret this information into something actionable and identify the insights and gaps that may be missing within the current process. Sometimes the gaps within the current process become extremely apparent, while other times, I feel I am acting as a detective to uncover the clues to the new, and improved user experience. The thing I love about using this technique is that the affinity diagram can become another tool in your UX tool box to aid in gaining consensus on what the main focus should be during the next phase of design. The information uncovered is often used as guide throughout the design process.
So, next time you are faced with a design challenge and want to find a way to make connections and discover the gaps in order to create a better user experience, give this process a try and see what insights you can uncover.