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Affinity Mapping: An Ultimate Guide
Home > Blog >
Affinity Mapping: An Ultimate Guide

Affinity Mapping: An Ultimate Guide

Saviour Egbe
July 6, 2023

Affinity mapping is a crucial tool in any UX Designer or Researcher’s research synthesis toolkit.  It’s one of the best techniques to go from an overwhelming sea of sticky notes, to clear concise answers.

This guide will provide you with a clear understanding of affinity mapping, its benefits, and how to create an affinity diagram. We will also explore the difference between affinity diagrams and mind mapping, along with the tools available to aid the process.

What is an Affinity Diagram?

An affinity diagram is a visualization of your data where you group information based on underlying themes. Affinity diagrams are typically very visual and involve physically moving and clustering data.

Affinity diagrams, sometimes referred to as affinity maps or the KJ approach, promote good decision-making and teamwork. They are often used to discover insights from raw information and make decisions based on those insights.  

For old school folks, affinity diagrams involve physical Post-Its grouped into clusters on a whiteboard or wall. If you’re more digitally inclined, your affinity diagram might look like virtual stickies on a Miro or FigJam board.

You create an affinity diagram via the process of affinity mapping.

What is affinity mapping?

Affinity mapping is a technique to help you find patterns in large amounts of data. It’s the act of clustering or grouping similar data points together so you can identify underlying patterns.

While affinity mapping, you typically start with a large volume of data (tons of notes from user interviews for example). You then review each of these data points and cluster them based on commonalities you see.

If two separate notes are talking about the theme of “lack of time” for example, you might bring those closer to each other on your whiteboard or Miroboard.

As you sift through all your data points, you start to bring notes that talk about similar topics closer to each other until a clear cluster or “theme” emerges.

The affinity diagram is a tool to identify common themes and patterns, prioritize issues, and generate innovative solutions.

When to use an affinity diagram

There are a couple of times when affinity diagrams are particularly handy:

  1. When you’re inundated with data. Often during user research, you’ll uncover a ton of data points. 10s of notes start piling up and you’re suddenly struggling to see straight. Affinity diagrams are a really handy tool in this case, especially if you’re a visual person, to help you sift through the noise and discover patterns.
  2. When you’re collaborating with others to uncover insights. If you’re working with a team member on research synthesis, affinity maps can be really helpful to sift through data together. It helps in two ways:
    a. You can review each note together and move Post-Its as you resolve them into clusters. This way you can visually keep track of the notes you’ve already covered, and which are pending.
    b. Affinity mapping usually takes place on whiteboards (digital or otherwise). This is inherently a collaborative space where multiple people can “act” on the data.

Mind Mapping vs. Affinity Diagrams

Mind mapping and affinity diagrams are two different methods of visualizing information—both can be useful in different situations.

Mind mapping uses diagrams to visually organize information, thoughts, and ideas. They are generally more organized in nature and allow for communication of complex ideas.

Mind maps are used to organize information or processes you already understand. For example, you might use a mindmap to explain the types of user research methods.

 A mindmap of user research methods

Affinity maps on the other hand, are visualizations of data where information is grouped based on underlying themes. This grouping takes place as the maker of the map reviews each piece of information on the board and moves similar data points closer together.

Affinity diagrams are used to discover insights or patterns you aren’t already aware of, while MindMaps are used to communicate ideas, concepts or processes you already know about.  

How to Create an Affinity Diagram

Creating an affinity diagram is very simple:

Step 1: Create a board

1. You need a board to run your affinity mapping on.

  • If you’re digitally inclined or working remotely with your team, you may want to build this affinity diagram on a tool like Miro or FigJam.
  • For user interviews, if you want to move into an affinity map without having to create the whole thing from scratch you can use Looppanel. Looppanel automatically creates a visual affinity map for you. You can also create and share insights you’ve noticed across your notes with team members via Looppanel
  • If you are working with a team in person or you prefer working offline, you can create your Affinity Mapping board on any whiteboard, or even just a blank wall. You just need a space where you can stick Post-It Notes and move them around.

2. Ensure there's enough room to spread out the sticky notes and allow for easy grouping.

Step 2: Write each idea or data point on a separate sticky note. 

  • Take a moment to think about the ideas or data points you want to include in your affinity diagram. If you’re running user interviews, you may want to include all the notes you’ve made from interviews. If you’re only interested in how users reacted to a specific task, you may only want to include notes related to that task on your board.
  • Write each data point down on individual sticky notes (these can be on physical Post-Its or on digital ones on Miro or FigJam) . It's important to keep each idea or data point concise and specific to ensure clarity.

Step 3: Place all the sticky notes on a surface like a whiteboard, wall, or a large sheet of paper. 

Step 4: Look for similar ideas among the sticky notes and group them together. 

  • Begin by examining each sticky note and identifying common themes, concepts, or connections. 
  • Move the sticky notes closer to each other if they share similarities or relate to the same overarching idea. As you do this, you will start to see clusters forming on your workspace.

Step 5: Continue grouping the sticky notes until all ideas are organized into distinct groups or clusters. Then you:

  • Take a step back and assess the emerging groups. Look for patterns, recurring themes, or relationships among the sticky notes. 
  • It's essential to keep refining the groups by rearranging and regrouping the sticky notes. This is to ensure coherence and logical organization. 
  • You may need to iterate this process several times until you are satisfied with the arrangement. 

By following these steps, you create an affinity diagram. The process of affinity mapping helps you process a large amount of data. The final visualization of the affinity diagram helps you visually see cohesive groups or insights that emerged from your data points. 

The affinity diagram provides a holistic view and helps in organizing information, identifying common themes, and generating insights. It's a powerful tool for understanding complex information and aid decision-making.

Affinity Diagram Example

To better understand the practical application of affinity diagrams, let's consider an example from the field of user experience design. Imagine a software development team working on improving the user interface (UI) of an e-commerce website.

The team wants to identify pain points from user feedback to enhance the overall user experience.

Let’s say the team ran 10 interviews and has a pile of notes after the fact. They can paste all their notes on a digital or physical board. Their affinity diagram may look like this:

An affinity map with lots of unsorted notes

As team members review these notes, they may sort them into clusters.

For example, if multiple notes talk about how difficult it is to find the feature you’re looking for, they may be clustered under the theme “Navigation”.

Related notes are moved near each other under the theme of “Navigation”

Within each category, they can further categorize specific pain points or suggestions provided by the users. This process helps the team identify common themes and prioritize areas for improvement.

The final affinity map will have multiple groups of data points based on the underlying theme.

An affinity map once data is clustered into themes

By visualizing the data through an affinity diagram, the team gains a holistic view of user feedback. In this case, the affinity map would empower them to make informed decisions about UI enhancements, leading to an improved user experience and increased customer satisfaction.

Tools for Affinity Diagramming

Apart from the traditional sticky notes and whiteboard approach, there are digital tools that can be used for affinity diagramming. Here are some popular tools: 

1. Miro:

Miro is a collaborative online whiteboard platform that enables teams to work together remotely. It offers a range of templates, including affinity diagrams, that can be easily customized and shared with team members in real-time.

2. Mural:

Mural is another digital collaboration tool that provides a virtual canvas for teams to create affinity diagrams and other visualizations. It offers a user-friendly interface and supports real-time collaboration, making it ideal for remote teams.

3. Looppanel

Looppanel is built specifically for analyzing user interviews. 

Instead of manually copying your data onto a board, Looppanel automatically creates your affinity diagram for you based on themes or questions your notes look to answer. It simplifies the process, so even beginners can use it with ease and cuts down analysis time significantly. 

Bonus: Looppanel automatically records your user interviews, and generates high-quality transcripts and AI-powered notes in minutes.
Yes, this is aside from the affinity mapping features 🤯

4. Lucidchart:

Lucidchart is a cloud-based diagramming tool that allows you to create various types of diagrams, including affinity diagrams. It offers drag-and-drop functionality, collaboration features, and integrations with popular project management platforms. 

You can explore hundreds of Lucidchart affinity diagramming templates to work you through on visualizing your organization's ideas, systems, and processes.


Affinity mapping and the creation of affinity diagrams provide valuable techniques for organizing and synthesizing data.

Affinity diagrams offer a visual representation of information grouped by underlying themes, promoting collaboration, decision-making, and generating insights. They are particularly useful when dealing with large volumes of data or when collaborating with others.

In contrast, mind mapping serves as a tool for visually organizing thoughts and ideas, and communicating them effectively to others.

Both techniques have their merits and can be applied depending on whether you want to discover an insight from data (affinity map) or communicate an already existing idea, process, or concept to others in an easily digestible way (mind map). 

Creating an affinity diagram is a straightforward process that involves writing each idea or data point on a sticky note and then grouping them based on similarities. This method can be done using physical sticky notes on a whiteboard or digitally using tools like Looppanel, Miro, FigJam, or Lucidchart. These digital tools provide added convenience and collaboration features for remote teams.

By utilizing affinity mapping and affinity diagrams, teams can gain insights, identify patterns, prioritize issues, and make informed decisions. Whether in the field of user experience design, project management, or research synthesis, affinity mapping proves to be an invaluable tool in simplifying complex information and improving overall outcomes.

Affinity mapping and affinity diagrams enable researchers, designers, and teams to navigate through a sea of data, uncover meaningful connections, and arrive at clear and concise answers. Embracing these techniques can enhance productivity, foster collaboration, and drive successful outcomes in various domains.

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