Spatial approaches to Qualitative Research

Posted by on Mar 9, 2012 in normative | One Comment

For the past two months I’ve been part of a research project for one of our clients at Normative. We’ve been using mostly qualitative methods to dive deep into a massive organization, and understand their behaviours so we can design for the real problem.

A big component of our method has been transcribing onto post-its the data points from survey, interview, and focus group transcriptions. By coding the information in different ways (unique IDs in the corner, colours for individuals or existing categories, etc), we’re free to move the data spatially, creating visual context between data points while still being able to track those pieces of data back to their original source. The changing visual context allows conclusions and inferences to be made from these groupings, and observations can be added to the data as headers and direction.

Why is this important? It’s allowing us as a team of designers and researchers to work together on a massive problem, and keep the data, conclusions, and insights physical. Each of us is emerging as an expert on one component of the project, but our knowledge, research, and findings are being externalized on these walls.

It’s an old technique and the “20-something Designer with Postits” cliche is definitely getting a bit out of control, but when exercised at scale and with appropriate rigor, it’s a fantastic way to facilitate research across teams and enable your clients to participate in the discovery.
(Cross posted on