Category Archives: Visualising research

See what I mean lead image

See what I mean? (Video)

A few weeks back at our very own UX Homegrown conference, I shared my story of how I combined visual communication styles from two former careers into a way to make research insights visual, and generate conversations that matter.

Here’s the video:

It was the first time I’ve spoken at an event in NZ for over three years, but it’s a story I love telling.

The story plays out over years as confidence grew, and clients encouraged me to put down the bullet points, and pick up a sharpie.

You’ll see what a slow learner I was, but I share my ‘how to’ techniques to help you get there quicker. And it seems to be working – since I first shared this story and these techniques, I’ve had some great emails from people who wouldn’t consider themselves a ‘visual person’ attaching their ‘first stabs’ – examples of visual artefacts, explaining the impact they noticed in how their team responded etc.

If you’re tired from the insights from your work gathering digital dust, and you’re feeling sketchy after the video, I go step by step through my approach in an article ‘Visualising Design Research‘ from a couple of years back.

Now go sharpen your pencil, and send me some shots!

Sharing design research findings is a bit like one of 'those' jokes

You had to be there. (Video)

Like one of ‘those’ jokes, design research has the most impact to those who were there in the moment.

In this video – from a presentation hosted at eBay Design in San Francisco – I explain how I try to help client teams discover their own punchline from user research, by designing experiences for them rather than delivering findings to them.

Continue reading

Nick prototyping a customer journey map

Visualising Design Research

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)

How to:

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.


Here’s one I prepared earlier:

Design research illustration by Nick Bowmast

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:

FIRST: Lay out your key insights.

These can be single words, or statements.
Arrange these in a way which best frames the messages you want to communicate.
Insights-on-floor-600

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:

  • The patient’s context
  • Their mindset and moods
  • Environmental factors which contribute to their experience
  • The importance of distraction
  • The psycho-social aspects of being in the shared ward, and in a single room.

… and as I’m doing it I’m realising, how these relate to each other.

Thinking in two dimensions.

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.

Sketch-1-600

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.)

Add people and props.

This is the part where you literally put the people in the picture and think about the words and phrases you want to use.

Sketch-2-600

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.

Make a list, and go shopping.

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.

ShoppingList-600
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.

Keep it simple.

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 (!)

teatrolley-600
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.

Drawings-in-ink-600

Get digital.

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).

indesign-600

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.

Establish hierarchy.

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.

IndesignDetail-600

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.

Boxes and arrows.

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’.

closeup-600
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!

Colouring in.

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.

Printing.

Go BIG.
I recommend you call your local print shop, ask them how wide their roll is, and make this the shortest dimension of the printout.

Printing a UX research poster
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.

 

 

Stories in stereo – Sketching customer journeys

How do you share stories collected during dozens of interviews?

What if your ‘Customers’ are actually patients in a hospital?

…Rather than take notes and quotes, why not sketch it ?

Let me explain…

Collecting patient stories
I’ve been part of a team mapping the ‘patient experience’ through a hospital. The foundation for the project is collecting stories from patients in context.

This means interviewing patients at their bedside in Emergency, on wards and later in their homes. The context can be sensitive and the content emotional.

The scale of the work means a raft of interviewers and large number of interviews, each with their own style. The stories have been so rich, diverse and engaging that working to a note-taking template went out the door…

So I began to experiment…

Getting sketchy
At one patient’s house I began sketching her story freestyle, in real time, as she told it.

My partner steered the conversation, while I scribbled furiously with a fat marker and a flipchart on my lap…

Below is a segment of about the first 15 minutes of an interview:

A small section of the sketch notes I took during an interview

I’m glad I tried it
I’ve spoken before about the power of visualising research findings, and particularly sketched visuals over polished.

A sketch on the project room wall is very accessible, so gets a lot of eyeballs – great for sharing the story. As well as a standalone artefact, It can be a great prompt for discussion – As you talk others through it, somehow the context and tone of the conversation comes flooding back to you. It’s not quite video, but it does bring the story alive.

Try it yourself…
Here’s a ‘Top 10’ …Some starters from my experience:

  1. This works best if your job is only to listen and capture. Have someone else lead the interview.
  2. Go BIG – use a large format pad and fat pen. This makes it essay to socialise later, and prevents you from getting too detailed.
  3. Try to maintain a few seconds ‘buffer’ between what you’re hearing, and what you’re drawing.
  4. Don’t analyse as you go – just scribble like mad, or your ‘buffer’ will max out and you’ll miss bits.
  5. Use visual metaphors, e.g. If the subject is looking for something, draw binoculars, magnifying glass, map, compass etc.
  6. Pepper the notes with verbatim quotes, I use speech or thought bubbles.
  7. Use a couple of sizes or styles of text to indicate strength of a comment, specific themes etc.
  8. Talk the subject through the sketch at the end of the interview. They’ll be pleased to see what the hell you’ve been drawing.
  9. Ask for comment. “What else would you add?” They might correct you in places or add further texture to the story which you can add on the spot.
  10. If you’re recording with video sit away from the microphone, felt-tip markers make quite a racket when you’re going full-tit.

Give it a try…
This is something I’ll definitely be doing again, trying not to be admitted to hospital myself from marker pen fume inhalation.