Affinity mapping is a visual clustering technique to help organise a large number of ideas into groups or themes based on relationships.
Sometimes when brainstorming with lots of people with many ideas and perspectives, it can be difficult to distil these conversations into a coherent takeaway. Affinity mapping can help you to turn a large amount of data into meaningful themes or categories to help you generate insights and work towards solutions. Whether you’re working through a complex problem, building a product or establishing a process, affinity mapping provides a straightforward way to synthesise a group’s thinking.
Affinity mapping can be used in a variety of situations and can be used individually and in teams. You can use it during the creative ideation stage to help you organise and consolidate ideas from your brainstorming session, while during the prototyping and testing stage, affinity mapping can be used to analyse customer interview data. It can also be used to narrow down options as a part of a dot-mocracy process. Affinity mapping is suitable to use when you are confronted with many ideas in apparent chaos, as it can help to identify new patterns in seemingly disparate data.
At its core, affinity mapping has four core stages: collect, group, label and reflect.
Start by putting your pieces of data, drawings, ideas and observations onto sticky notes. At this stage, it can be helpful to use thick pens or markers to do this so that the words can be read clearly even from a distance. Make sure to put them up where they’re visible to everyone (eg: on a whiteboard or spare wall). If you’re working remotely, there are some great tools for digital, team-based affinity mapping like Mural or Miro.
After you have all your ideas written down, one by one, pick up the sticky notes and group related notes into clusters or categories. You can do this by analysing the ideas and placing similar ideas together and creating new groups when ideas do not fit into an existing cluster.
Once you have a number of clusters, attempt to define the categories through a succinct heading. Sometimes you can look for a note in each grouping that captures the meaning of the group and place it at the top of the group. As you label the clusters, it’s normal to make changes and move ideas around as necessary.
Now that you have grouped and labelled the ideas to your team’s satisfaction, it’s important that you reflect on or discuss the themes you’ve created and how they affect your next steps. In reflecting on the groups you have created, sometimes it might help to rank the most important clusters over less important one. Other times it might make sense to create connections with other clusters using lines.