Thursday, April 30, 2009

Analysis, Plus Synthesis: Turning Data into Insights

Conducting primary user research such as in-depth interviews or field studies can be fairly straightforward, when compared with what you face upon returning to the office with piles of notes, sketches, user journals, and audio and video recordings. You may ask, What should I do with all this data? and How do I turn it into something meaningful?

These are big questions that I cannot answer in just one article, and deciding what kind of documentation or design tool to develop—for example, personas, mental models, user scenarios, or usability test reports—depends on your goals for conducting the research in the first place. But regardless of the output, I believe, for most researchers, the overarching objective is to identify true insights, instead of just reporting facts. Research outputs that we build around a core insight or truth compel design teams to empathize with users, and thus, to design truly meaningful products and services.

In this article, I will outline an approach to gleaning insights from primary qualitative research data. This article is not a how-to for creating the design tools that are often the outputs of primary qualitative user research—such as personas, mental models, or user scenarios. Instead, it identifies an approach to generating overarching insights, regardless of the design tool you want to create.

Analysis + Synthesis

Great research involves analysis + synthesis.

Synthesis—“The composition or combination of parts or elements so as to form a whole.”—Webster’s

Too often, as Figure 1 represents, we focus purely on analysis—and the identification of facts—and ignore synthesis, which often occurs organically during analysis. As shown in Figure 2, synthesis involves detective work that lets us see the patterns in our data. Synthesis can present itself as a gut feeling that something is right or true when we examine our data and its patterns. (See Steve Baty’s article “Patterns in User Research” for an excellent overview.)"    (Continued via UXMatters, Lindsay Ellerby)    [Usability Resources]

Figure 1—Analysis of facts, or what we see - Usability, User Interface Design

Figure 1—Analysis of facts, or what we see

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