I’ve had to take a big swig of my own medicine. It tasted awful.
Here, I’ll share the embarrassing but enlightening story, and the 5 lessons I’ve learned.
Here, I’ll share the embarrassing but enlightening story, and the 5 lessons I’ve learned.
How to put down your bullet points and pick up a pencil…
I’ve almost given up on delivering written reports as a UX research output, favouring video and large scale visuals instead. (I explain why here)
In this article I’ll walk through my process and the tools I use, in the hope you can do something similar for your clients.
This is also a way to share some of the content of a few talks I gave in NY and SF in 2015, about visualising design research.
My talk ran through how I’ve blended communication styles from former careers in art and architecture to communicate the types of insights we find in UX research projects, where I’ve found traditional reports just don’t cut it.
One thing I wanted to be sure my audiences took away was a feeling of “I could totally give that a go on my next project”.
So if after reading this article you’re not thinking like that, I’ve missed the mark. Doh.
For ‘Ward life’, a project for a healthcare client – I was asked for only visual deliverables, as the team found the video/poster combo so compelling on our previous project it left the report in the dust.
Knowing there would be a visual at the end, I photographed the process so I could share it.
The goal was to understand the social and emotional experience of patients in a shared hospital ward situation. I partnered with a chaperone (who’s also a natural interviewer) and we hit the wards – spoke to nurses, patients, their families etc., emerging later with insights – as you do.
This part of a research project is where you need to start considering how best to communicate what you’ve found…
Here are the steps I took to convert a set of findings into this visual:
These can be single words, or statements.
Arrange these in a way which best frames the messages you want to communicate.
Group around themes and sub-themes, relationships, this one feeds into that one etc.
While doing this I’m thinking of a narrative. A starting point and the flow, or the way I want the viewer to take in the content.
In this case I’ve grouped the insights around:
… and as I’m doing it I’m realising, how these relate to each other.
This is a bit like ‘storyboarding’ – you’re essentially weaving a story, frame by frame.
I’ve found moving the parts around directly on paper is a great way to build a story, and helps me join the dots between the things I’ve found and what they mean.
You’ll need to be acting out a dialogue in your mind, between the content and the audience… converting this dialogue into a visual format. Think about the story you want to tell, where you want to place the accent and importance, and the quotes you want to use (speech or thought bubbles).
Rather than drawing all the ‘things’ I’ve just drawn text boxes or a description of what it should convey, like here it might be ’Patient in bed with ipad’ so my collaborators have an idea what I’m thinking.
Working at this basic level means it’s easy for people to contribute, add texture or meaning where it’s needed. (Like suggesting ‘patient wearing headphones’ etc.)
This is the part where you literally put the people in the picture and think about the words and phrases you want to use.
Your audience will be drawn to illustrations of people and the text immediately connected to these, so give thought to where you want this attention. At this stage I use a few stick or bubble figures with speech bubbles as placeholders to give myself, (and sometimes a client) a sense of how we could portray what’s going on in the moments / interactions in the patients’ world.
When I’m feeling happy with the arrangement and have an idea of which parts of the story should be supported by illustrations , it’s time to give the stick figures an upgrade.
I literally list out all the drawings I need and think about which ones I can draw, and which ones I’ll need help for.
And when I say help, I mean Google Image Search. Here I typed in ‘Hospital bed’ to get an idea how these looked from a couple of angles. If you’re not so confident at drawing these things from screen, try printing them out and tracing them. Just hold them up to a window if it’s from a photo.
I try to avoid drawing busy scenes, so reduce illustrated elements to only where they will add value and support the narrative.
This means blob-headed androgynous people, sometimes without arms and other details. My experience is that it’s about what’s written in the speech bubble rather than whether your sketch of a person is wearing trainers or brogues. That’s why you didn’t realise the person pushing the tea trolley was male or female, let alone naked (!)
As you can imagine a finer level of detail can be handy at times, for example I could have had a stethoscope round the neck to identify a doctor in this image, but it wasn’t important enough to add it.
By the end of this you should have line drawings on paper ready to be scanned so you can put them into a digital document.
Open up a layout program that handles images and text. (I use Adobe Indesign) and set a massive document size. This one was about 1400mm wide x 900mm high. (You’re going to print this out BIG).
From here, use the ‘Text box’ tool to add in all your text as individual elements, then import your scanned drawings and go to work arranging these, being faithful to your paper mock-up.
Ok, it’s bit of a high-falooting word, but once I’ve got all the content loosely arranged I usually go about assigning a few type ‘styles’ so I can use sizing and bold etc. Creating this visual hierachy adds prominence and weight where it’s needed.
I’m usually thinking – “If someone’s only going to spend one minute looking at this, what do I want to be sure they’ll take in?”
… then assign extra weight to those elements. It’s not just a matter of making things bigger, sometimes giving more space around them can help with this.
It’s no coincidence that software toolkits have boxes, arrows, shapes and lines. This combo (and text of course) is all you really need, and doesn’t take long to get the hang of.
In this visual I’ve used boxes to say ‘these belong together’ some triangles for big arrow heads, and for the floor and walls I used the line tool where you just keep clicking corner points, then choose a colour for the ‘fill’.
After text and speech bubbles, (an oval and a triangle joined together) arrows are one of the hardest working tools in the box – particularly for non-linear artefacts like this one. They help guide the viewer around, and show the links and sequence of things.
Indesign or even much less sophisticated programmes will have an easy toolbox and menu of line and arrow types, thin ones, fat ones… Mix it up!
I keep things in black-white and greys as long as possible to make sure the message is getting across without colour, then go to Adobe Kuler to pick a palette of 3-5 colours, using some to add depth, and one or two for accents.
I recommend you call your local print shop, ask them how wide their roll is, and make this the shortest dimension of the printout.
A ‘wall sized’ visual (as opposed to individual A3 printouts) gets more eyeballs.
A poster provides a shared experience, get’s people out of their seat and generates the sort of response and conversation that matters to your project.
If you’ve read this far, you probably agree that ‘generating conversations that matter’ is a job text based reports all-too-often fail at.
So …pick up your pencil and start a conversation.
Being comfortable with chaos is a blessing in UX and design research.
This comfort can save you drowning in the depths of customer insights.
And if you’d rather drown in a pie, then make it a humble one, because if you like knowing the answer most of the time, open wide – you’ll need a big bite.
Not very appetising?
For days you’ll need to be content with NOT knowing answers, to the very questions you’ve been asked.
This was put beautifully into words in an interview with Ewan Clayton, a design professor, calligrapher, monk, and former researcher from Xerox Parc labs. (Those smarties who invented the PC, Graphical UI and the concept of ‘windows’)
In the interview he talks about innovations in communication, from handwriting to Steve Jobs and the development of computer user interfaces.
My ears pricked up when he said:
“You have to learn to live with doubt, and strangely enough, that’s exactly what a research lab is like. You’re absolutely acutely aware of what you don’t know”
…but it was what he had to say about his time as a researcher at Xerox as an ‘artist among scientists’ which really resonated with me:
“If you run, to try and find security, in “I know this”, or “I’ve established that” you actually don’t progress, and so my training as a monk was strangely appropriate for this new environment of the research lab, where I was able to sit in the dark, and have confidence that things would start making sense to me if I just allowed things to be, and watched and observed.”
I’m no monk, or scientist so neither the chaos nor the pie came naturally to me, (switching from the classic ‘steak and cheese’ to ‘humble’ was quite a transition) but these built over time as I learned to trust my instincts as well as the process in research and design.
Here’s the podcast on Simon Morton’s ‘This Way Up’ show on Radio New Zealand. About 25 mins long.
…and if you’re the reading type, here’s an article on FT.com about Ewan’s journey from Calligraphy through Monkhood to Innovation Research at Xerox.
Which is better: Having courage to explore the unknown, or a map to help you find the way?
When heading on a design journey, I’m beginning to think courage and a good compass is better than a map.
A year or two back I tentatively drew a map of the design process for a specific client and their design challenge…
It became a 2m long poster to help a team of healthcare professionals new to design see what lay ahead, and refer to as they progressed towards their goal. A ‘you are here’, ‘look how far we’ve come’, (and sometimes ‘oops, we missed that bit!’) kinda thing.
I enjoyed pulling this together, thinking about the likely journey ahead for this team, reflecting on my own experience of design and building on top of classic frameworks promoted as ‘best practice’ by the likes of IDEO, Design Council, and what I’d learned during my time with Stanford d.school as part of the Better By Design program.
The cynic in me believes these design process diagrams likely derived from sales tools for design agencies, each claiming to have a point of difference and perhaps to have some ‘secret sauce’ that the other’s hadn’t discovered. …but their 3, 4 or 5 step bubble diagrams have become ubiquitous to the point they are almost redundant.
Semantics aside, they all promise gold at the end of a rainbow if you’re prepared to challenge your thinking upfront.
Other metaphors are funnels, diamonds, snakes, vortexes, washing machines, the list goes on, but essentially they describe a few phases of lost and found with a bit of loopback before finding that gold.
They make nice visuals and the theory seems sound enough, but when you start to actually apply one of these to a live project you realise how futile it is to try to map the design process.
A sequence of steps is convenient and tidy but the reality of design is more like this:
Maps and guidelines give us comfort. They can provide a sense of shared understanding of where we are going and what to expect…
… but the reality of most meaty design projects is that we don’t know where we are going, and we need to find a new kind of device to help clients feel comfortable with the unknown.
What makes the journey-maker comfortable with the unknown?
Is it time to throw away these maps and find a design compass?
Yes, it’s another metaphor, but perhaps it’s the designer’s job to be that compass. Something the client trusts to navigate through the messy reality.
Designers are comfortable with the ‘lost’ feeling, because we’ve ‘been there done that’ and believe in great outcomes based on our own experiences.
So how do YOU convince a nervous client you know where ‘north’ is?
Do you roll out a map, or are you the compass?
I’d love to hear…