Contact  |  Login  Volunteer

Affinity Diagramming

Affinity diagramming is a participatory method where concepts written on cards are sorted into related groups and sub-groups. The original intent of affinity diagramming was to help diagnose complicated problems by organizing qualitative data to reveal themes associated with the problems.

Existing items and new items identified by individuals are written on cards or sticky notes which are sorted into categories as a workshop activity. Affinity diagramming can be used to:

  • Analyze findings from field studies
  • Identify and group user functions as part of design
  • Analyze findings from a usability evaluation

Building an affinity diagram is a way to interpret customer data and:

  • Show the range of a problem
  • Uncover similarity among problems from multiple customers
  • Give boundaries to a problem
  • Identify areas for future study


Related Links

Gaffney, G. (ND). Affinity Diagramming to analyse usability issues<. Provides practical advice on affinity diagramming

Spool, J. (ND). The kj-technique: a group process for establishing priorities<. A case study of the use of the technique.

Authoritative References

Beyer, H. & Holtzblatt, K. (1998). Contextual design: Defining customer-centered systems. San Francisco, CA: Morgan Kaufmann.

Courage, C. & Baxter K. (2005). Understanding your users. A practical guide to user requirements: Methods, tools, and techniques. San Francisco, CA: Morgan Kaufmann.

Holtzblatt, K., Wendell, J. B., & Wood, S. (2005). Rapid contextual design: A how-to guide to key techniques for user-centered design. San Francisco, CA: Morgan Kaufmann.

Kuniavsky, M. (2003). Observing the user experience: A practitioner’s guide to user research. San Francisco, CA: Morgan Kaufmann.

Detailed description

Benefits, Advantages and Disadvantages


  • Involves entire test team so they can all "own" the data.
  • Builds teamwork.
  • Consolidates lots of customer data into meaningful design criteria.
  • Identifies customer work practices.


  • Can be time-consuming.
  • Can be exhausting.


Affinity diagramming is a relatively simple process, but it can take substantial time to break large amounts of text data into "units of information" -- especially if you have data from many sources. Large affinity projects can require from hours to days to complete and the interpretation of the resulting groups of data can require many hours of focused effort.

Appropriate Uses

Affinity diagramming is a simple and cost effective technique for soliciting ideas from a group and obtaining consensus on how information should be structured.

How To


  1. Arrange a meeting of participants with the relevant expertise that will last one to two hours.
  2. Write any existing items on sticky notes.
  3. Items are "factoids" (direct observations from studies) and participant's insights and design ideas.
  4. Put a user ID number on "factoids" items so customer can be identified.
  5. Use a room where you can fix flip chart paper to the wall using Blue Tack.

At the meeting

  1. Explain the problem to the participants, and if appropriate allow participants to create their own items as a brainstorming activity.
  2. Ask participants to stick the notes on the flip chart paper, close to any other notes on a similar topic.
  3. If designing, include users as participants, and group items from a user perspective.
  4. Once consensus has been reached on the grouping, use a different coloured sticky note to name each group.


For pre-existing items, affinity diagramming is an alternative to card sorting. Card sorting finds common patterns in the way different individuals group information, while affinity diagramming obtains a consensus result.

Data Analysis and Reporting

The output is items clustered by topic.

There are freely available Excel tools to support affinity diagramming, e.g. from and freebizfiles.


Lifecycle: Requirements
Sources and contributors: 
Nigel Bevan, Karen Shor, Chauncey Wilson. Originally based on the UsabilityNet entry.
Released: 2009-06
© 2010 Usability Professionals Association