WNM700 Module 03

Friday, January 4th, 2019 | Module

From Research to ideation

After raw research has been acquired, you will be left with a big pile of data! The next step is to make sense of the research, which requires analysis. The purpose of analysis is to create a design statement or problem, which can then be be given form through ideation. The application, system, site, or product that may be created should stem from the needs of people you’ve talked to, not the other way around. This is what it means to work from the topic to the project, rather than start with a project or concept and work “up” the chain to the users. There are many ways to analyze and explore your research for design insights. You will be looking at three methods. Diagramming, persona authoring, and model building. Different projects may call for additional rounds of research, or may need to factor in other elements, like technology, business and revenue, or a more personal authorial intent.


Affinity Diagramming

Becoming an advocate for the needs of the people you’ve come to know through your research begins with organizing the thoughts and feelings of those people into some kind of structure. This can be accomplished with a simple diagram that is sometimes known as “affinity diagramming” because it aligns the goals of the designer with the needs of the user. This process also helps convert personal anecdotes (“qualitative” data) into categories and needs that can be tabulated (“quantitive” data). A simple way to do this is to try and take answers from interviews, and group them up into categories or common needs.

Read through the Affinity Diagramming handout from Design. Think. Make. Break. Repeat. Look over the result page. Name three interface elements that could spur from this diagram, and add them to your journal. 



Once you have enough data from your primary and secondary resource sourcing, a common technique is to create composite people, or “personas”. These are general “types” that designers use to test their designs. Personas are a tool. They should be used to drive the design forward and use to simulate the design in the mind of the designer or other stakeholders. They shouldn’t be created just for the sake of the exercise. The also should be useful to the designer! If you find yourself “just making up” the details of a persona, and not using that persona for testing or ideation, then the purpose of the exercise is lost. Remember, a persona is a composite. This means that you need to have talked to enough people that trends being to emerge. It’s a big mistake to base personas on just one or two interviews or articles. The interviews have to be taken together in aggregate to identify specific types of users. 

Examine the personas included in the pick-up folder. Which of these personas could be a useful tool for the designer, and which may have issues? Can you identify any problems you might see, and briefly outline what you think might need to change?


Creating Models

Models are created to give a visual overview of a topic, subject, project, or organization. They can be as simple as a few lines with labels all the way to a sophisticated organization chart with hundreds of labels and diagrams. 

What is a conceptual model?

When a designer is analyzing everything they have learned on a topic though research and testimonials or interviews, often time a “map” of the information is needed. They may create a conceptual model or designers model of all of the relationships between the various elements of the topic, and the individuals who are engage with it.

What is a mental model?

When users interact with a design, something like a map or model of the interactions, with actions and outcomes, gets created in the mind’s eye of the user. 

What is the difference between the two? 

Design is meant to bridge the gap between the way something works and a user’s understanding of it. As an example, let us look at an automobile. A conceptual model may show that fuel needs to be injected as an aerosol at an increased rate through an intake valve into a combustion chamber in an internal combustion engine to increase torque on the drive shaft. A user may have a much simpler mental model. They know you need to stomp on the pedal to speed up the car. The designer’s job is to align the two. In this case, the interface is an accelerator foot pedal.

Read the conceptual models section from The Design of Everyday Things by Don Norman. His humorous story about his refrigerator may feel familiar to you. In your journal, recount a personal experience where your assumptions of the model of operation of a design were incorrect. Feel free to use software or apps as an example, as you will probably be rich with material!

Creating mental models as methodology for designing systems is not a new idea. Watch the Charles and Ray Eames classic 1965 corporate film View From The People Wall. A figurative example from this film includes a society housewife planning a dinner party by using a model on paper. What digital app would you create to help her if she was planning a dinner party today? What other thoughts or reflections do you have to this film?


Activity: Mental Model Exercise 

(via Christina Wodtke)

Between a partner and yourself, try to map out everything you do at the grocery store. 

• Write down all of the tasks that you need to get done.

• Draw a diagram of how you accomplish them, from good acquisition to payment.

• Draw a diagram of the layout of an average small grocery store between the two of you.

Share your results. 

Next, visit:


Trader Joes

Whole Foods


In what ways did these designs support your tasks and needs? In what ways did they not meet your needs? 

Don Norman would call the websites the system image. As a user, you would have to infer all interaction from what you can see. Compare your mental model (a user model) with the conceptual models from an industry source (a designer model). Note any misalignments. 

Discuss your results.


Authoring your design question

Now that you’ve analyzed your data and research, you should have enough information to author a design question. The question can be stated as a prompt. A common prompt is “How might we….” , and then fill in the blank. 

Finding a design solution

When creating your design question, remember that you are looking for design solutions. While you will be leveraging technology and it that may be in service of a commercial product, remember that your job is to solve problems with the design process, and using design specifically. If your proposed solution to your topic is a business plan, requires passing legislation, or needs some new technological engineering advancement, you may be on the wrong track. You aren’t trying to recreate UBER/Facebook/iPhone or any other successful existing technology business. Although there may be a market opportunity for a derivative project or product, you are not recreating previously established successful businesses, and shouldn’t find yourself writing a business plan. While money and monetization may be very integral to your design solution, remember that problem shouldn’t be stated in a way that pure business is the solution.

Very large scale topics like climate change or the aviation industry are heavily regulated and most of the solutions to these issues require legal legislation and governance, and design will be just a part of the solution. Your question should not put the designers in the position of drafting legislation! 

While you will use technology in the service of your design, you should be using technology the same way a designer uses a pencil, albeit a very sophisticated one. Your design question shouldn’t involve designers being forced to invent new technology, algorithms, or frameworks. 

Fine art challenges us, acts questions, and is critical of the zeitgeist in which it is created. Fine art and design are not the same thing. It can be confusing, because they share tools and process, but objectives and quality evaluations are quite different. You shouldn’t be looking to create fine art or gallery art with your question. 

Business, legislation, technology, fine art — These things are all great things! They may be part of your topic or be part of your content, or inform your design. However, you should always be searching for design solutions to design questions.


Properly framing a design challenge is critical to human-centered design and key to your success. Scope a challenge that’s too broad and it’ll be hard to know where to start, but pose one that’s too narrow and your solution may not achieve the intended impact. Strive to turn a problem in need of a solution into an opportunity for design. Ask your team to solve too broad a question and you won’t know where to start. Ask too narrow a question, and you risk stifling creativity.

When asking your design question:

• Is the answer to the question ultimately some kind of design solution?

• Is the question focused on ultimate impact? 

• Does the question allow for a variety of solutions? 

• Does the question take into account context and constraints? 

Read Creating Design Guidelines from the dSchool in the pickup folder. Take some time with your partner and author a design question to your research topic. 

1. State the problem you are trying to solve.  

2. Frame it as a question (i.e. “How might we….” or “How could design help….”)

3. State the impact you’d like the design to have.

4. List a few possible solutions. If it feels prescriptive, broaden the question. If it feels to wide open, narrow the parameters.

5. List context and constraints. For example, price, technology, geography, age?

6. Go back to step 2, and make adjustments.

Record your design question.


Ideation approaches

So, you’ve got a design question, now what? Time to ideate! What kind of interactions, systems, applications, services, are needed? What could they look like?  The trick here is to create a mass of ideas that you can narrow down later. Know that some of the ideas will be taken to the prototype stage, but some may not. Be open. One extremely frustrating bit about conceptual thinking is that almost by definition it defies process. One cannot produce a “concept factory”. Good ideas can not be automated. So, go for volume. 

Check out a few approaches from Graphic Design Thinking, by Ellen Lupton and Jennifer Cole Phillips.

Read over the strategies from Graphic Design Thinking in the pick up folder. How do you come up with new ideas? Give yourself constraints? Remix old ideas? Mindmap? Look at “inspiration” 😉 ? Name 3 strategies in your journal that you use to generate innovative ideas.


Ideation Challenge!

You will be working with a partner, and also with another team. 

You will be exchanging your research data and analysis you’ve done in-class. That’s right! Swap topics and research!

Why do this? 

A. To get a fresh perspective for fresh solutions. 

B. To test the quality of the analysis. 

C. To practice handing off research assets in a team environment.

Team 1 will be using Team’s 2 data and problem statement authored together in class and vice versa. Each will produce as many possible solutions as they can. 

Starting with broad brainstorming and listing, and then migrating to sketches, concept diagrams, or task lists, each team will try to produce as many solutions as they can. Here’s the kicker. The team with the greatest quantity of potential solutions will receive a bonus. How can you tell a solution is a new one? If must include a unique take on the problem statement, and have a fundamental difference from previous solutions. 

Next week, bring in as many separate ideas for possible solutions that you can with you and your partner. Go for volume. They must be separate ideas to count as different solutions. The team with the most ideations will get extra credit in the course, and will receive glory, acknowledgment, and praise!

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