Affinity Diagraming to Improve ARTECA Design

by Shruthy Sreepathy

Working at ArtSciLab is so much fun because I am always encouraged to explore and try new UX research methods. I thought we should try affinity diagramming exercise and in preparation for this exercise, I read Karen Holtzblatt’s Contextual Design and Universal Methods of Design by Bella Martin and Bruce Hanington. According to Martin, affinity diagramming “…is a process used to externalize and meaningfully cluster observations and insights from research, keeping design teams grounded in data as they design.”

The goal of this exercise was to make sense of the data gathered through usability testing of the ARTECA project to understand areas of concern, major problems that need to be addressed immediately, and see some common issues across participants. This exercise helped us group observations and comments from usability tests into meaningful clusters, which guide us through to understand the area of concern. We slightly modified the activity by using different color sticky notes to represent different participants, since we did not have enough sticky notes to put up all the points from five usability test reports. It was an amazing experience to see patterns emerge from this activity.

In February, Professor Cassini Nazir, Joel Ewing, Duncan Gallagher, and I decided to try this activity for the first time for the ARTECA project. We gathered five usability test reports (usability testing is an enriching observational research method for the ARTECA project. Read my Usability test blog post to know more about it), cleared out the whiteboard, printed all the test reports, gathered sharpies and sticky notes to begin the activity. We had an hour to complete the activity so we decided to time box the activity. We had 20 minutes to scribble quotes and findings from reports and stick them up on the wall.

In the next 20 minutes, without discussing we moved the sticky notes to form affinity of the points put up on the wall. There were few loner points, a few that had to be grouped into smaller affinity, and some that required reconsideration. We utilized the last 20 minutes to discuss and iterate on the process to come to a logical conclusion. At the end of the hour we had little clusters that highlighted about multiple issues.

So what did we learn from this activity?

  • Use of different color notes to represent different usability test participants helped us see at a broader level how many participants faced similar issues or the same problem.
  • Similar issues were faced by multiple test participants. For example, the patterns gave us a solid evidence that search feature is an area of concern- it was not just multiple problems faced by one participant, but different color notes informed us that almost all participants had similar issues.
  • Test participants couldn’t find grey literature page, pricing information, and ARTECA branding on search page. Working up the hierarchy of affinity diagram we figured that discoverability is an area of concern.

When we completed the exercise we identified functionality, discoverability, and look & feel were some of the overarching areas that need to be addressed. Now the next step is to figure out solutions and improve the design.

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Shruthy Sreepathy is a M.S neuroscience graduate student specializing in Human-Computer Interaction. She is involved with UT Dallas ArtSciLab since Fall 2016 as a designer and Drupal developer for ARTECA. Her focus is in UX design and development.