26 May 2021 Tenaka

Affinity mapping

Finding meaningful customer insights from qualitative data

“There is a great difference between knowing and understanding: you can know a lot about something and not really understand it.” – Charles F. Kettering

Affinity mapping is a synthesis tool used to sort through data or concepts drawn from research or brainstorming sessions, with the aim of solving a design challenge.

Understanding your customer through the affinity map

Affinity mapping is a common method used to breakdown and understand research data, allowing you to find patterns and meaning by grouping data, based on their similarities. It involves transferring research data onto Post-It notes so that the design team can immerse themselves in the data, closely analysing words, phrases, or concepts gathered during research.

Going beyond face value to deeper customer insight

If you and your design team find yourselves with an enormous amount of data to interpret, this is a great method to use. It will help you break away from logical or intellectual patterns of thinking and move towards relying on perceptive gut-feelings to navigate through the chaos. It is an ideal method when you need to go beyond face value or high-level insights, into deeper meaning.

Identifying impactful business solutions that resonate

This method allows you to see research data as a whole, as well as to zoom in to details, so that you can decipher, organise and find themes and insights. The themes and insights you derive will help you identify opportunities to design impactful business solutions. This is a method that benefits from tapping into your own life experiences and world view to understand the data.

Things to consider when creating an affinity map

  • This is not a solo venture. Group collaboration is almost essential for revealing richer themes and insights through different perspectives and inputs.
  • Be sure to keep the design challenge written at the top of your synth wall so that you can constantly remind yourselves of what you are solving for.
  • Consider transcribing the data onto the same colour Post-Its, as you will be using other colours for group names, themes, and insights, and it helps to be clear. Also, when transcribing (see Transcribing method), be intentional about keeping each Post-It note to one thought.
  • When creating your synth wall, stick up Post-Its randomly to avoid introducing bias before you begin grouping.
  • You will know that you have done a good job with this method if you arrive at insights that could not have been obvious at the outset.

For those sticky, unfamiliar words and phrases.

Synthesis (synth):

a process of bringing together, grouping and making sense of research data to find meaning and valuable insights that lead to constructive action


putting down the words spoken in a research session onto paper or an electronic format

Design challenge:

a big-picture question to keep you focussed throughout a project, with the intention of coming up with a solution

Hi there. We’ve linked any words that might be unfamiliar to you to a glossary at the bottom.