Design Research
From Interview to Insight:

Part One,
Summarising the Interview

Extracting the most important ideas from a Design Research activity

We call the act of extracting the most important points from the notes taken in a Design Research activity ‘Downloading’.

The goal is to filter out the less relevant things and keep the observations that feel most inspiring to design.

It’s a group activity with everyone who participated in a session sharing their thoughts and opinions. You should agree on the most important notes and find consensus amongst the group. It’s often the first time your team will start to get a sense of what resonates for all of you. Sharing notes can also highlight where you might have missed something.

The process should be a constructive conversation. Build on each other’s ideas and observations while celebrating the disagreements and digging into why two members of your team might have taken something different from the research activity.

Take good notes

The first step in a successful download begins one step before the download session. It begins in the activity itself, and making sure you take good notes.

Downloading is much easier when you’re looking back over well taken notes. Write clearly and concisely. It can be difficult when you’re writing quickly during an interview, but a little care taken will save you more time in the long run.

I use a very simple notation to highlight questions, ideas and quotes. It’s nothing more that a different bullet point for each note, but it speeds up the whole process.

What tools you’ll need

We download notes onto post-it notes, using fat pens. This is a deliberate decision to force us to capture one point per post-it, and to be concise.

We then each share of our post-it notes, taking it in turns to tell the story around each one. Put the post it notes together in one place, ideally onto a big blank sheet of paper — flipchart sheets are perfect. At IDEO we use big foam-core boards; it makes it easy to shuffle them in the project space.

Pull out quotes, notes, etc

To be most efficient, each member of the group should re-read their notes and pull out the points that they feel are most important. If you have difficulty identifying the most important points, read through several times, iterating and prioritising the top points each time.

Label each post-it note with the name of the person you interviewed, or the research activity. Later during synthesis you’ll be moving post-it notes around and so being able to trace the provenance is vital. It’s also good practice to use consistent colours of post-it note for each type of observation — quotes on blue, ideas on orange for example.

Facilitation

If you weren’t in the interview, ask questions and make sure you feel connected to the observations that are being shared. You can also help by capturing other notes that arise and doing the practical job of sticking the post-it’s to the board/wall/sheet that you’re using to collect you notes.

Download as you complete interviews

We aim to download interviews soon after they’ve finished; ideas and observations will be fresh in the mind and you’ll probably want to discuss your thoughts with everyone straight away.

Downloads can take place in the back of taxis, in hotel rooms or on trains. Sooner is usually better but make sure you do a complete job. It might feel productive to start downloading in the back of a bus, but if you get cut short or loose notes it’ll waste more time than it saves.

It may feel uncomfortable to be narrowing down so soon, and it may feel a little strange to reduce a two hour interview down to just 12–15 points. Be confident in your instincts and let some things fall away; the group should all agree on the points you extract as this is ultimately the first step in synthesising your findings into a cohesive story.

Remember that your goal is not to document the detail of the interview, but to extract the things that will be inspire the design work that follows.

What happens next

As you continue through your research and download each session you’ll build up a collection of post-it notes for each research activity. Everything should be downloaded in the same way; if you did desk research it should also be refined down to a collection of post-its.

When your research is finished you’ll bring all of your downloads together in one place to begin synthesis. This process will move many observations into emerging opportunity areas.

This is the first of a two-part post, if you like this please read Part Two, Synthesising Insight.