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Organizing Interview Findings

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By Brad Hunt

Posted in Research

Coalescing interview findings into actionable feedback and design directions is a squishy process.

There are a variety of tools and methods that can help organize findings. Affinity Diagramming is a near-universal first step. Several other methods allow you to re-frame research findings so that design ideas can emerge.

How to Turn User Research into Smart Design Decisions | Adobe Blog

Affinity Diagrams

Affinity diagramming is a process used to organize large sets of ideas into clusters.


  • Closely review the notes.
  • Look for interesting behaviors, emotions, actions, and verbatim quotes.
  • Write what you observed on a sticky note (coded to the source, the actual user, so you can trace it back; use colored stickies).
    • TIP: Time-box this activity or work on it before the actual meeting. It can feel overwhelming to try and capture all fo the interview findings at once.
  • Group the notes on the whiteboard.
  • Watch the patterns emerge.
  • Rearrange the notes as you continue to assess the patterns.
  • Extract insights and design mandates from the groupings that emerge; then prioritize taking into consideration business goals, etc.
  • Doing this as a team is really valuable
  • Note vocabulary that users use to describe their work, the tools they use, etc. especially if it’s different from the vocabulary you use for those same things
  • Note all stated or implicit user goals

IDEO’s take on these steps:

NNG’s guide to running an affinity diagramming workshop (very detailed)

Empathy Map

Four-quadrant diagram representing what users said, did, thought, and felt during a particular experience. I find these less useful for enterprise applications but sometimes helpful for consumer applications.

Empathy Map – Why and How to Use It | Interaction Design Foundation

Journey Map

Journey maps are documents that show a user’s experience

When and How to Create Customer Journey Maps Journey Mapping 101

Mapping Experiences - We Are Evolving — down for a while(?) but Adaptive Path’s guide on experience maps (basically the same as journey maps) was my favorite so I’m including the link.

Mental Model

The sum total of what a person believes about the situation or object at hand, how it functions, and how it’s organized.

  • “Intuitive” is a synonym for “matches the user’s mental model.”


  • Do user research.
  • Make an affinity diagram.
  • Place affinity clusters in stacks representing the user’s cognitive space to create the model. These groups will include actions, beliefs, and feelings.
  • Group the stacks around the tasks or goals they relate to.

Task Analysis

Step-by-step look at how a user completes a particular task or achieves a goal/outcome. Usually represented as a flowchart.

  • Note the initial state, the event prompting the user to begin the task, the information or tools the user needs at each step, and any steps at which the task is likely to be interrupted or resumed. Put all of these steps back together as a workflow
  • Often represented as a flowchart or diagram


Personas are abstract representations of users based on research with actual users.

Their main strengths are in the shared understanding that a group gains by building them together and the ability to use them as a reference or rubric for evaluating later tradeoffs and priorities.

Personas are one of the easiest-to-misuse tools/methods. They’re also one of the most popular.

I generally don’t recommend them for a few reasons:

  1. I prefer to use real people as example users when possible.
  2. Ownership of personas tends to live with an individual or small team, which hurts their adoption and reduces their credibility with the larger team
  3. Because they are fictional it can be more difficult to advocate for their needs/goals against factors like development effort, cost, etc.

Personas – A Simple Introduction | Interaction Design Foundation

Evaluating and Prioritizing Findings

One framework for evaluating findings UX research findings: distinguishing base hits from home runs

  • New
  • True
  • Actionable
  • Valuable
  • Course-correcting