It’s 6.00 am in Singapore, it’s still 1 hour to sunrise. We are already in office sipping hot coffee. In front of us a wall covered with photos, diagrams, clippings of notes, post it’s with comments. We have just begun the Qualitative analysis and report writing process.
We have data from different sources: consumer observations, interviews and discussions with consumers, social media etc. We know we have days of thinking, discussions, sense making ahead of us. We now need to dig deep to crystallize insights and then construct it into a story – a structure to communicate ideas/insights, essentially design the Qualitative report.
The definition of a designer on Wikipedia: A designer is a person who designs. More formally, a designer is an agent that “specifies the structural properties of a design object”. Or as defined by the Design Institute of Australia: A designer can be said to be both technician and artist. A designer plans things for manufacture or construction.
As Qualitative researchers, we are designers of information presented in reports used by organizations/brands. However, we are rather attached to the stories we have collected, the powerful insights we have gathered. There are always considerable discussions about what needs to be included, what should be highlighted. The focus is on distilling it to a focussed and impactful message that will lead to a wondrous moment of awareness of truth among client organisations. In a world where Qualitative research is required to address more complex issues, it has become increasingly important to simplify our reports.
In our quest to simplify our Qualitative reports we have 3 key ideas. These are inspired by our interpretation/(mis?) interpretation of John Maeda’s book “The Laws of Simplicity”. It’s been written for people designing products and also for businesses. We found it provides inputs which apply to the process of Qualitative analysis and report writing as well.
1. Organization makes a system of many appear fewer.
All of us have at some time had to sort out the mess in our cupboards and reduce the clutter into a more usable state. Similarly we need to sort through all the data to make it more usable. The tools to do this is to sort, label, integrate, prioritize.
For a Qualitative report it means we need to record the key learning onto individual sheets. Move them around manually into groups of similar ideas (Sort). Next label each group to capture the core of the idea (Label). Then either combine or break out groups to ensure they are really distinctive (Integrate). Finally prioritize to focus only the really key idea (Prioritize).
2. Knowledge makes everything simpler.
Any good research aims to create a moment of ‘ah-ha’ to inspire clients. An inspirational moment is a great motivator to learn. We find that these inspirational moments can happen when a metaphor (thing regarded as representative or symbolic of something else) is used to transfer learning from one context to another.
In our project on young women in Cambodia we knew the population of the country was largely young. In a country with a recent history of war, there was a great burden on this new generation to bear the responsibility of taking the country forward. This responsibility shaped the new generation which struggled on the one end to enjoy and immerse itself into the modern world and on the other had to be conscious of not wasting its opportunities. From this emerged the metaphor of a rubber band tension.
The ‘rubber band’ became our learning metaphor that began to take shape beyond the report in discussions with clients and allowed us to generate more knowledge in some surprising ways.
3. Simplicity is about subtracting the obvious, and adding the meaningful.
As researchers we often get attached to learning generated in a project and want to share all of these with clients. Caught up in our own excitement we can end up over loading our end deliverables.
To overcome this information over load, think about the idea of moving the unnecessary away. Similar to banks that are simplifying their websites and clearing away the clutter behind the scenes, as researchers, we need to weigh out what we really want to bring to the front and what we want to hide. Of course, you can end up with a grave yard of insights but at least the real story is clearly heard.
PS: we will talk about extracting value from the graveyard of insights in another blog entry!
Bruce Lee: Simplicity is the key to brilliance