Method Deep Dive: Affinity Clustering

Portland Design Thinkers
Portland Design Thinkers
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111 SW 5th Ave. #1600 (16th floor) · Portland, or

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Follow the signs and take the lift up to the 16th floor.

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Philosopher Otto Weininger once said, “All genius is a conquering of chaos and mystery.” Whether analyzing research data or considering creative ideas, Affinity Clustering (or what the Stanford d.schools calls "saturate and group") is one of human-centered design's most powerful and commonly used methods. A key technique of the "synthesize" phase, we use it to organize pieces of data (often research data) into logical groups. When done properly, this reveals insightful patterns when teams sort items based on perceived similarity -- defining affinities that are inherent but not necessarily obvious. It's the best way we know of to bring order to the chaos of ethnographic research around human behavior, wants, and needs.

And yet for all its seeming simplicity, it's easy to go wrong with Affinity Clustering. How much data do we need? What kind of data? How do we code it? What do we write on the sticky notes? How do we know when we're finished? What do we mean by "non-obvious" clusters? How do we label the groupings? How many people should we work with? Can't we just do this in Excel?!?

Join MURAL's Mark Tippin and me at SurveyMonkey's swell 16th Floor offices on Wednesday, June 26 when we'll lift up the hood on one of the most widely used methods in the design thinking toolbox and demystify it once and for all. You'll walk away with a practice-based understanding of when to use Affinity Clustering and some tried-and-tested techniques for squeezing the most juice out of this action-packed synthesis and discovery method.