I’ve found it’s easier to ‘see the wood for the trees’ if you’re chopping them with a sharp axe.
Yep, I just had my usual cord of firewood dumped by the shed and once again I’m finding it’s a useful medium when analysing data from a UX research study.
I’ve just had a week on the road interviewing people in their homes and am now faced with the mammoth task of reviewing all my footage / notes / photos and artefacts from the trip, then making sense of it.
A formally trained researcher might call this process extraction, collation, analysis and synthesis of data. For many like me who come into research ‘through the side door’ (like I did from the surf industry) there’s a certain mystery to the process, and it can take a few projects to get comfortable with it. What’s more, it can be straight out daunting…
…yes, a bit like a truckload of firewood needing to be cut, sorted and stacked into piles.
… Back to the pile of data though and most likely your first encounters will involve shuffling hundreds of sticky notes round the walls of a small room, bumping into furniture and getting high on solvent-based markers. There’s a lot of pattern spotting and theme building and as a rule it’s a hugely immersive process.
Time can equally stand still, or race by, and your brain aches under the weight of a thousand echos – things you saw, heard or felt during your interviews.
T I M E & S P A C E
I’ve found it’s important to step away from the piles of sticky notes, into a new environment where your mind can wander. Running or the gym might be your thing, but for me, it’s chopping wood.
A monotonous task like chopping, sorting and stacking firewood is a perfect partner to working through all that data.
I escape the pastel patchwork walls and kill those echos in a single chop of the axe as I try to guess which way the log will split, or whether I’ll need the bigger axe for the knotty pieces?, which way the grain goes? and so on.
Time can play tricks on me in this mode too, but I surrender to it. As I’m splitting and stacking away I let my own thoughts come into play alongside the project objectives. This is where the strongest insights emerge for me, and they seem to come from instinct.
There’s something magic about walking back into the ‘war room’ with a few splinters and a fresh perspective, or even a challenge to the direction you’re on, and I’ve found it comes not from total immersion, but from giving yourself the space to let your own mind sort through the findings.