Affinity mapping is a process that helps categorize insights, ideas, and other qualitative data to identify patterns. The term is often used synonymously with affinity diagramming, sorting, and snowballing. 

What Is the Goal of Affinity Mapping?

The goal of affinity mapping is to identify qualitative data patterns, obtained from user surveys, usability tests, etc., to better understand the users’ needs and desires.

Depending on the research or testing method, the patterns might consist of common words and phrases, frequent suggestions in customer reviews, or overall user sentiment, for example. 

A User Experience (UX) designer can then take these insights and use them to guide the UX design process moving forward. 

What Tools Do You Need for Affinity Mapping?

Affinity mapping can be done physically, using note cards or sticky notes and a whiteboard, or you can do it virtually in a collaborative environment like MURAL, Freehand, or even Figma.

Affinity Map Cluster by MURAL

You can use an online tool, like this template from MURAL, to conduct affinity mapping remotely

4-Step Affinity Mapping Process

Affinity mapping is a fairly straightforward process that can be done by a single designer, or  collaboratively within a team. 

Here are the four key steps to affinity mapping in UX:

Step 1: Document Notes

During your user research and testing sessions, take extensive notes to document words, actions, and other observations. These notes should be split up so that each item (like a particular phrase or single observation) resides on its own note card or sticky note.

Step 2: Sort Cards

Next, you can sort through each card or note. Look for commonalities between the notes, and use these to group cards into themed categories.

Step 3: Name Each Theme

Once your cards are all sorted into appropriate categories, go through each group to identify and name the theme. 

Step 4: Write an Analysis Statement for Each Theme

Finally, you’ll want to summarize each theme to describe what the data reveals with an analysis statement. This can be used when you present your research to the team, or to help frame the solution you’re working towards as you dive into your next design sprint.

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