“Too often, … we focus purely on analysis—and the identification of facts—and ignore synthesis, which often occurs organically during analysis.” -Lindsay Ellerby, Design Director at Normative
As User Experience Designers, one of the core tenets we learn is how to conduct user research and define problems. We’re good at collecting lots of data with piles of notes, sketches, user journals, and audio and video recordings. What we’re left with at the end of the research is “How do I turn this into something meaningful?”
Don’t just dump a heap of spreadsheets and personas on someone’s desk. Instead, tie the analysis to actions the business can take immediately and down the road. A story isn’t just about storytelling, but rather, a way of presenting information to make it memorable, and tying next steps to the key points heard in the story.
How does this work? Here are some common steps, which I’ll cover in detail below:
1. Collect and organize your data
2. Mine the data and identify what you see
3. Sort and cluster the data
4. Identify insights
5. Socialize those insights
6. Assembling your deliverables
ANALYSIS & SYNTHESIS
Collecting and Organizing Data
Set up a system for both your digital and physical assets before you start your research. Making everything easy to find and part of an organized system will make things much easier when you and your teammates arrive at the next steps.
Mine the Data and Identify What You See
Your organization schema will come in handy as you look for all the data related to one participant at a time. Identify key findings from each participant and start organizing them in a some sort of format. I personally start with colored post-its and move to a standard spreadsheet with a tab for each participant. Include key attributes such as goals, behaviors, needs, challenges, facts, and quotes. The more visual you can make your data,the more people will be likely to join in.
Sort and Cluster the Data
Using a variety of techniques such as card sorting, affinity mapping, and others, you can start to synthesize the data and see patterns among the data.You’ll start to see commonalities and critical issues pop-out just by clustering the data. You’ll probably sort and re-sort again. The first time you do the exercise will spark new ideas and thoughts.
Follow these common steps to begin generating your insights:
- Discuss each pattern and point of synthesis with your team; Identify user quotes to back up that point
- Articulate each insight as clearly as possible and write it on one post-it note per insight
- Take a break and come back 1 or 2 days later; Do the insights still resonate with you and your team?
- Think of a different way of expressing or articulating those insights;But if you got them right the first time, don’t change them
- Socialize the insights; Give people not involved in the research some context, show them the insights, and get their reactions
Socialize Those Insights
User research is not a solo activity by any means. While you may have teammates who helped out or observed, there are still many people to share the research with. The more often you can get people aware of the insights about your customers, the better your products and services will be.
Assemble Your Deliverables
Finally, put everything together into one or two deliverables. These don’t have to be heavy documents or huge powerpoint decks, but simply a summary that allows others to quickly grasp the work and insights that came out of that research. Keep these summaries clearly organized and accessible for everyone.
By following this process of analysis and synthesis, you’ll find yourself becoming more and more comfortable with the entire practice of generating ideas and meaningful knowledge from the data you collect, and will find that over time, you have more confidence in your work. You’ll also earn more respect and confidence from your clients, team leaders and colleagues because you’ll be able to back up your recommendations with clear reasoning and hard facts that are easily understandable to the entire team.
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