Themes sheets: lean affinity mapping for on-the-go research analysis

A quick and easy method we’re using to distil our user research on the fly

👂 Intense listening during usability testing 👂

Over the past couple weeks, we’ve been doing lots of in-person user research. We’ve been simultaneously running usability tests on the current Entrepreneur’s Toolkit interface and qualitative interviews and show-and-tell activities with entrepreneurs.

Combined with our other research efforts, we’ve been gathering a lot of data and feeling a bit intimidated by the impending tasks of analyzing all of it to generate insights and research deliverables.

To do so, we’re planning a research analysis sprint where we’ll spend a day running through activities to make our insights actionable.

For now, though, we’ve got a lot of data sitting still in documents.

At the onset of our research phase, we asked: how might we capture themes as we conduct our research? Is there a way that we can start to draw lines between our sessions in advance of our sprint?

This inspired this:

My handwriting, as always, in stellar form.

Here’s the basic idea: after each user research activity we conduct, each investigator immediately jots down three key takeaways. We then share them with one another and discuss other themes we noticed in the session.

Next, we open up our Themes Sheet, where we can see themes that were recorded from other sessions. Where a new theme has been introduced, it gets a new column in the row of the session from which it emerged. Where a theme repeats, it gets either an “X” in the corresponding column, or a description if a slightly new take on that theme was put forward.

Here’s a snapshot of our Themes Sheet at present:

1. Rows show the sources of themes. | 2. Columns show themes. | 3. “X”s show affinities, where themes are repeated across multiple sources. | 4. Descriptions in affinities show elaborations on those themes.

We’re using this method to identify affinities amongst our research sessions while they’re fresh in our minds and we’ve been finding it really useful! It helps us listen better during our sessions as we look out for recurring and new themes. It ensures that we capture insights from our sessions in a highly efficient way for our own use.

It also provides us with a foundation for our research sprint. We’ll turn to our Themes Sheet to validate and add to the themes that come out of our sprint—making the daunting task of research analysis a bit easier!

Want to try it yourself? Download an activity guideline for Themes Sheets.