Decipher 2018 Workshop Recap

On Saturday, September 29, Sheila delivered a workshop entitled “Transforming research into action with visualizations” to a group of design educators and researchers at Decipher 2018. Over the course of three hours, participants gained an overview of field research and how visualizations support the process, then dove into two engaging activities in which they extracted and made sense of information from sample field data and, separately, visualized present and future states of a problem situation in order to find gaps and generate solutions. Here is a summary:

Workshop Introduction

A brief overview presentation grounded participants in the purpose of field research and the ways in which different visual methods align to the research process, ultimately looping back into the design process.

Core concepts were presented in short, visually rich chunks throughout the slide deck, with many examples of principles and methods in practice:

Activity 1: Understanding your data

To help guide the day’s activities, participants received a handout with instructions:

The first activity focused on the early part of the design process, when there is a greater need to understand the audience. Given a central challenge (How might we better understand the needs of college students?) and anonymous field research data about a college student, each participant had to analyze the text and visually code information based on the 5 W’s and 1 H: who, what, when, where, why, and how. Participants chose their coding method, which ranged from different colored underlines to varying line patterns.

Once done analyzing the text, participants then transferred each coded piece of information to a post-it note. They then worked in teams to create an affinity diagram, clustering all of their post-its together around the same categories they used for coding.

The completed affinity diagrams allowed the teams to make connections, find patterns, and synthesize a general understanding of the college students and the overall challenge.

Activity 2: Transforming findings into actionable items

The second activity shifted to the later part of the design process, when designers need to translate research findings into concrete solutions. Participants were given a set of finding cards (which summarize key insights from the field research data analysis) and two personas, from which they had to choose specific findings to work with and one persona to design for. After reviewing the information, participants had to draw the current state, or today picture, based on their present knowledge. They then had to imagine what the future state, or tomorrow picture, would look like and sketch out how that would look.

The goal was not to make illustrative renderings but to roughly diagram the main concepts in both today and tomorrow views, so that gaps between the two states could be more noticeable. With that understanding, participants could then generate ideas for how to bridge those gaps in order to make the future state a reality.

As some participants found, visually making both today and tomorrow pictures parallel by using similar elements in each helps make comparison and contrast easier.

Teams shared back their work with the larger group at the end and reflected on their own discoveries. It was an intense, fast-paced experience, but hopefully participants walked away with some valuable new skills that will inform their work in and out of the classroom.

A big thank you to the organizers of Decipher 2018, workshop participants, and affinity participants who helped out!