Design Thinking and Affinity Mapping

Marisa White

Affinity mapping is the process of grouping and clustering ideas into similar themes in categories. The process works well with the overall design thinking approach allowing an equal opportunity for ideas, collaborative environment, and a platform for creative thinking.

 The process boils down to the ideation phase of design thinking allowing the thoughts and ideas to run unlimited and draw out core challenges, solutions, and focus areas.

The Process of Affinity Mapping

The process is simple. You will need post it notes and space to post ideas (a wall or board of some sort). This can also be completed virtually using tools such as Mural or Miro or similar applications. Make sure you have space to move around.

 In your group, it’s important to create an environment in which attendees feel open to share idea. Encourage rapid ideation, encourage “bad ideas” as a means to bring out good ones, and allow folks to work silently through their thoughts without comparing to get organic thoughts.

Have the group brainstorm around the problem statement. Each idea should be represented on a sticky note. Keep the idea in simple form (a single or two words at most which can be expanded on later) and keep one idea per note. Use a sharpie so that the ideas can be easily viewed afterwards. Encourage everyone to write as many ideas as possible (again, encouraging bad or abstract ideas as a part of the process)

Once ideas are formulated, have the groups post their sticky notes to the wall. Give the group time to digest the ideas before starting to discuss overall themes.

Group sticky notes together that are the same, and those that are very similar. Place outlying ideas I their own categories and then continue grouping until you have a series of separate clusters in place.

You should narrow down a few ideas and then label the overarching themes. You may want to take pictures to remember the key points post session.

Finally, take your own spin and have fun with the process. The collaborative approach should create a level of enthusiasm and excitement, but can be approached differently per your organization and group based on the needs.

The Keys to Success

The simplistic process of affinity mapping is the key to its success. The process can be applied to a variety of situations, ideas, maturity to a process and is the starting point of many organizations implementing design thinking.

The set up of the session is also a crucial piece of the success of a journey map. Encourage employees to lay out ideas, monitor the room to allow everyone has a voice in the process, manage and keep time, and finally, create goals an d success measures for the conclusion of the meeting. This includes action points to implement the ideas post creation.

The maps become more complex with larger ideas and structures, but at its core can be applied with the process laid above.

Whether in the form of perpetuating a customer journey map to structuring internal process and defining design systems within an organization, and beginning the development of new products and services.