The Business Case For Affinity Mapping
Instead of working in silos, get people involved in ideation, giving feedback, sorting notes and discussing intended outcomes in the early stages.
These days, you might see a lot of designers trying out Affinity Mapping in brainstorming sessions. But there’s more to it than just sticking fancy, colorful post-it notes on a blank wall. It can help in synthesizing qualitative research findings and in analyzing ideas during early stages of product development. Let’s say you’re designing from scratch: a platform for B2B home décor… lets say you have a large volume of mixed information, from interviews with 20 business owners and 20 wholesalers on what they’d like to have on this platform… what happens next? Most likely you’ll require to draw inferences: showing developers which features to build. ‘Affinity Mapping’ is useful in such a scenario. It’s a visual mapping technique in Human Centered Design, that I find very clarifying.
A designer’s job is to make the visual map as digestible as possible for her team/client. In this example, let’s say she gets people: from B2B Sales, Operations, Product Strategy… all to articulate out loud and clear, what’s important for them on that website. She then puts up those ideas on a wall and categorizes them, based on their similarities (affinities). The audience is a heterogeneous team that’s giving feedback in real time. Their feedback and groupings can help extract insights, to build the platform’s most important features effectively.
I have personally found this technique useful. Why? Because, in physically spreading out the research and grouping them in the order of importance to users, I tend to look at everything with a fresh pair of eyes, a fresh mind, keeping aside my own confirmation biases (!). And in doing so, space is created, eventually drawing new connections that I hadn’t seen during the actual research.
In Affinity Mapping, it’s not a standard operating practice to include clients (mostly among firms in India, but it is a practice at Uxury.) I have learned that insulating clients / stakeholders from these ideation workshops or from the messy notes taken in usability tests is like doing them a disservice. It leaves them feeling disparate, and at times, not open to using the system that’s being designed for them. So, I’m a firm believer in taking them along on the journey. I think a designer’s job is to educate them and to build consensus. Basically, instead of working in silos, get people involved in ideation, giving feedback, sorting notes and discussing intended outcomes in the early stages. That approach is far more likely to create a website/ product/ platform that resonates with the people who are going to use it!
#uxury Blog Post #2 in 'Human Centered Design' Series