Start page

Links to Methods

Card SortingCritical Incident TechniqueAffinity Diagramming[Working: Stub for methods]

Affinity Diagramming

Alternative names for this method: Concept Wall, K-J Method


Affinity diagramming is used to sort large amounts of data into logical groups. Existing items and/or new items identified by individuals are written on sticky notes which are sorted into categories as a workshop activity. Affinity diagramming can be used to:

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

Expected benefits

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

When is it applicable?

As part of research for a new design, or at an early stage in design improvement.

What training, equipment, licences do you need to have?

  • Access to 6 - 12 participants with relevant expertise who can be invited to a 2 hour long meeting.
  • Pad of issues as a starter on notes, one for each participant.
  • Blank sticky notes (have some different colours to hand); a blank wall space; check how notes adhere to surfaces.

Description of method

Planning beforehand

Review all of the material gathered to date yourself.

Running the method

At the meeting

  • Explain the problem to the participants, distribute pad of known items and if appropriate allow participants to create their own items as a brainstorming activity.
  • Ask participants to stick their notes on the flip chart paper or wall, close to any other notes on a similar topic.
  • If designing, include users as participants, and encourage participants to group items from a user perspective.
  • Encourage participants to discuss and achieve consensus.
  • Once consensus has been reached on the grouping, use a differently coloured sticky note to name each group.

Analysing the outputs

The items within their groupings are the output of this method. Sometimes you may find there is a small group who will create an alternative grouping, and sometimes participants will attempt to impose a structure on the groupings themselves. Always a good idea to take one or more photographs of the result as soon as the session is over.

Reporting the results

Describe the skills or interests of the participants, and how much experience they have of this or similar applications. This is important for credibility.

Variants on the above


Quality control

The most important safeguard is not to impose your own pre-conceptions on the material, and to stress to the participants that what you want from them is how they would group the items. The best solution is usually not a purely logical one or a purely technical one (if it was, this exercise would be fairly redundant!)

What next?

If an interface is being designed, then the design team usually take this kind of output on board; however, technical issues and perhaps also policy issues may require negotiation.

More information

In print

Beyer, H. & Holtzblatt, K. (1998). Contextual Design: Defining Customer-Centered Systems. San Francisco: Morgan Kaufmann Publishers.


Case studies

Other methods that could be used instead

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

History of this page and contributors

edited from UsabilityNet by jk, 2018-09-03

Make a comment, or suggest another method

Please enter your comments in the form below and click 'Send'. Note that all comments will be moderated and may not appear immediately (or just click Refresh form without sending.)
Your comments: