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Since we already did this week’s homework session as an in-class exercise and in an effort to provide you every opportunity for success in your first real quiz-replacing written analysis we’re combining this week’s homework with the reading and analysis of Steve Baty’s Deconstructing Analysis Techniques into one tidy 10 point package.Write minimum of 500 max 750 words about Steve Baty’s Deconstructing Analysis Techniques using the study questions as a departure point but being sure to include your own best insight about how the piece fits into the narrative of our exploration of design research techniques.Use complete paragraphs and sentences. This will be graded on a 10 point scale for form AND content.Study Questions for Reading Deconstructing Analysis TechniquesHow does the use of the term Analysis differ between Dubberly and Baty?Where would Baty’s “analysis” fall on Dubberly Bridge Model?What “methods” have we learned so far that could apply to Baty’s categories of analysis?
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Deconstructing Analysis Techniques
Breaking down the analysis black box of analysis techniques
by STEVE BATY on February 17, 2009
No related posts.
Analysis is that oft-glossed over, but extremely important step in the research process
that sits between observation (data gathering) and our design insights or
recommendations. In many respects, analysis is crucial to realizing the value of our
research since good analysis can salvage something from bad research, but the
converse is not so true. This is where the literature tends to fall a little silent, jumping
over the analysis techniques straight to a discussion of how best to document and
communicate the findings from analysis. This article seeks to begin to redress that
imbalance by breaking down the analysis black box into its major sub-techniques.
On a recent project I needed to collect and analyze the content management templates
in use across a large enterprise Intranet. We were looking to inventory the diversity of
templates in use; whether they existed outside or within the enterprise content
management system; what changes might be made to the ‘official’ template set to
reduce the overall number of templates, and to prepare for the migration of all content
to a new design a few months down the track. I looked around at the literature for
information architecture and Web design generally and found quite a few references to
content inventories and content analysis, but nothing on analyzing templates.
I set about designing the analysis task from scratch: looking at what we wanted to get
out of the analysis; and looking at what tools and techniques would most effectively
allow us to get there. In so doing, it struck me that there is very little information
published about the process of analysis that would equip practitioners with a toolkit to
construct their own analytical techniques. So User Experience literature and all of its
component domains focuses on techniques for user research and testing, it’s
surprising to realize that the coverage often skips over the process of analysis, since
this is where much of the value of our research is realized.
RSS
Techniques of Analysis
We can start to pull back the curtain on analysis by looking at the techniques that go
into the process:
Deconstruction: breaking observations down into component pieces. This is the
classical definition of analysis.
Manipulation: re-sorting, rearranging and otherwise moving your research data,
without fundamentally changing it. This is used both as a preparatory technique –
i.e. as a precursor to some other activity – or as a means of exploring the data as
an analytic tool in its own right.
Transformation: Processing the data to arrive at some new representation of the
observations. Unlike manipulation, transformation has the effect of changing the
data.
Summarization: collating similar observations together and treating them
collectively. This is a standard technique in many quantitative analysis methods.
Aggregation: closely related to summarization, this technique draws together data
from multiple sources. Such collections typically represent a “higher-level” view
made up from the underlying individual data sets. Aggregate data is used frequently
in quantitative analysis.
Generalization: taking specific data from our observations and creating general
statements or rules.
Abstraction: the process of stripping out the particulars – information that relates to
a specific example – so that more general characteristics come to the fore.
Synthesis: The process of drawing together concepts, ideas, objects and other
qualitative data in new configurations, or to create something entirely new.
Let’s take a look at each of these techniques in detail and discuss some of the ways in
which each technique can be applied.
Deconstruction
Breaking observations down into component pieces. This is the classical definition of
analysis.
Breaking down research data into its component parts
is a standard technique for analysis. One example of
deconstruction is turning an interview transcript into a
series of separate comments or answers to questions.
Deconstruction is often used simply to prepare data for
other analytic processes such as manipulation or
summarization, or even abstraction.
The aim of deconstruction is to decouple each component so as to allow inspection of
each in its own right. In other disciplines this process is used as a device for critical
thinking, bypassing the potentially misleading image conveyed by the whole. In so
doing deconstruction can be a powerful tool for exposing unquestioned assumptions
about our users’ mental models or the business priorities of the client organization.
Looking at our template analysis example, one of our first analysis tasks was to
deconstruct the templates into their components. Like most of the technique we took a
very low-tech approach to the task, blocking out the individual components with a
pencil. In our case, the deconstruction made easier a lot of the subsequent analysis
work.It was a minor, but significant, step in the overall process.
Manipulation
Re-sorting, rearranging and otherwise moving your research data, without
fundamentally changing it. This is used both as a preparatory technique or as a means
of exploring the data as an analytic tool in its own right.
The ability to “play with the data” is a critical capability
in analysis. We utilize this technique in many
situations: searching for patterns or trends in our
observations; or as another preparatory stage for
further analysis. For example, sorting data in some
way – alphabetic, chronological, complexity or
numerical – is an a form of manipulation.
The ability to easily manipulate data is one of the key determinants for the tools we use
in our analysis work. Spreadsheets are an excellent tool for manipulating data; but as
we see in our template analysis task, the use of a more tangible form – such as our
index cards – can be just as effective: if not more so in some cases.
When data recorded in a format that resists fluid manipulation and exploration people
can stumble when moving from observation & data collection into analysis. It is
important to plan this task into the research design so that it is not overlooked. You
could find yourself with a costly and time-consuming data-entry process if it is
forgotten in the planning stages.
Transformation
Processing the data to arrive at some new representation of the observations. Unlike
manipulation, transformation has the effect of changing the data.
Transforming research data is the process of taking
our research data and turning it into something else.
For example, you may recall from your schooling days
the practice of “scaling” results from an assessment
task (exam, essay etc) so they fit a certain distribution,
so you end up with (for example) 10% A, 15% B, 25% C, 25% D etc
Another example might be to convert raw data into a logarithmic form to reduce the
impact of extreme values – or to demonstrate power laws in the data.
Summarization
Collating similar observations together and treating them collectively. This is a standard
technique in many quantitative analysis methods.
The goal of summarizing data is to generate an
additional set of data, typically more succinct, that
encapsulates the raw data in some way. This may be a
short sentence that captures the essential point from
several minutes of an interview transcript: “participant
finds site search unwieldy, confusing and difficult to
use”.
We can also summarize the data quantitatively using summary or descriptive statistics
such as frequencies, means, and standard deviations. Unlike the process of
abstraction, where specificity is sacrificed for the sake of clarity; or aggregation, where
several data sets are “rolled up”; summarization seeks to characterize the underlying
data.
Once again, spreadsheets are a very useful tool, especially when dealing with
quantitative data. But they can be similarly useful when handling other data types. An
equally useful medium for capturing summaries (once you have them) – particularly of
qualitative data – is the PostIt or sticky note. This medium is also highly suited to
manipulation and exploration of the resulting data. One advantage sticky notes have
over a spreadsheet is that you can arrange and re-arrange them in two dimensions, so
you can further manipulate and explore the summaries.
Index cards share many of the same advantages as sticky notes. They can be an
excellent tool for capturing and working with summaries. They have the added
advantage of being relatively robust and can therefore sustain a greater degree of
handling.
Aggregation
Closely related to summarization, this technique draws together data from multiple
sources. Such collections typically represent a “higher-level” view made up from the
underlying individual data sets. Aggregate data is used frequently in quantitative
analysis.
As discussed previously, aggregation is similar to, but
distinct from summarization. In one respect
aggregation is simply the process of bringing together
data from a variety of sources and adding it together.
In an analytic context it also carries with it the
connotation of combining those sources together into
something new.
A good example to highlight aggregation in action is
the creation of a (fictional) customer satisfaction index (CSI). Our CSI will use data
from:
An annual customer survey;
The number of product returns received; and
The ratio of new to repeat customers.
We combine data from each of these sources and arrive at some single figure – based
on some form of calculation (we’ll save the ‘how’ of that for another time). That single
figure – which we can track year-to-year – is our aggregate. Unlike a summary, which
characterizes a single piece of data, you can see that our aggregate is a composite
value.
Generalization
Taking specific data from our observations and creating general statements or rules.
Taking the results of some specific research task and
drawing general inferences about the broader
population is one of the most common, but perhaps
the least understood analytical technique.
Generalization draws a great deal of its strength from
the discipline of statistics, and the particular
techniques of statistical inference.
In many respects generalization is similar to abstraction in that it reflects a move from
the specific to the general or essential. It is a way of describing the common
characteristics of the objects reflected in the data.
An example of generalization might be: “security is important to our users” based on an
analysis of user interviews.
Abstraction
The process of stripping out the particulars – information that relates to a specific
example – so that more general characteristics come to the fore.
The process of abstraction involves the progressive
removal of specific data retaining just the essential
information needed to communicate particular
characteristics of an object. For example,
“professional” is a more abstract form of “Doctor” or
“Lawyer”; “graphic” is a more abstract form for “photograph”, “logo”, “illustration” or
“chart”.
A wireframe is an abstract representation of a page design; the template thumbnails on
our index cards are an abstract representation of the templates.
Abstract representations can be very useful because they remove a lot of visual noise
from the analysis process. What we’re left with is a “high-level” depiction devoid of
specific detail; highlight focused on just those elements which are relevant to the
discussion.
Synthesis
The process of drawing together concepts, ideas, objects and other qualitative data in
new configurations, or to create something entirely new.
Combining multiple elements together to create a new,
complex ‘thing’ is what the technique of synthesis is all
about. Similar in some respects to aggregation,
synthesis typically deals with non-numeric data.
Synthesis is often undertaken towards the end of an
analytic process as the reverse of deconstruction. So
where we might begin by breaking down data into its
component parts and examining them; we often end by recombining those components
in new ways. Note, however, that synthesis can also form part of an exploration and is
one of the fundamental tools of the trade for UX strategy work.
If deconstruction allows us to critically examine assumptions by isolating individual
components, synthesis allows us to explore new configurations for the whole.
But what about…
In discussing this article with other people we identified three other techniques that we
either weren’t sure belonged as analytic techniques, or we couldn’t decide if they were
already covered by the techniques discussed above. We believe they’re all very
important to the analysis process. They are:
Reflection: thinking, pondering, contemplating. To the outside observer it looks a lot
like staring into space, but your mind is going over and over and over all the detail
of your observations, data, diagrams, and other research materials. It’s the part you
can’t put a time limit on, and can make or break your subsequent work. You might
call it “soaking it all in”, or “immersing myself in the data”. This technique is
incredibly valuable to me in my own work and I’m not sure I’d be as effective if I
didn’t include it.
Visualization: this technique is about giving the data a visual dimension. Instead of
lists of items, or rows of numbers in a spreadsheet, a chart or graph or some form
of illustration. A good visualization can help expose patterns or gaps much more
clearly than the raw data.
‘Number-crunching’: this feels like it needs to be drawn out as a separate activity
from data manipulation, transformation, or summarization, but I also recognise that
this level of distinction may just be peculiar to me. This refers to all of the heavyduty quantitative analysis work like clustering analysis, or regression, calculating
correlation co-efficients and the like.
Conclusion
Working with research data and observations is often treated as a black box in design
literature. Designers find themselves faced with the daunting task of analysing
research data, but lack clear approaches to that task. Understanding the major
techniques used in analysis work can remove some of the uncertainty and provide a
clear way in to the work.
There still exists a very large gap in the literature on analysis and analytic techniques,
but I hope that this discussion of the major components of analysis will go some way
towards filling that void. The next time you’re undertaking some analysis work, try and
identify these major techniques, and see if there are any others we can add to the list.
I’d like to say a very big thank you to the people who helped clarify and refine both my
thinking on this topic, and the expression of that thinking in this article: Will Evans, Livia
Labate, Donna Spencer and Daniel Szuc; Christian Crumlish, Michael Leis and
Kaleem Khan.
Graphics by Jeroen van Geel (and he’s pretty proud of them
.
Steve Baty
Steve Baty, principal at Meld Studios, has over 14 years experience as a
design and strategy practitioner. Steve is well-known in the area of
experience strategy and design, contributing to public discourse on these
topics through articles and conferences. Steve serves as Vice President of the Interaction
Design Association (IxDA); is a regular contributor to UXMatters.com; serves as an editor
and contributor to Johnny Holland (johnnyholland.org), and is the founder of UX Book
Club – a world-wide initiative bringing together user experience practitioners in over 80
locations to read, connect and discuss books on user experience design. Steve is coChair of UX Australia – Australia’s leading conference for User Experience practitioners;
and Chair of Interaction 12 – the annual conference of the IxDA for 2012.
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21 comments on this article
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Laura Patterson on February 25, 2009 at 12:59 pm
Nice article! I agree that there is much to the analysis process that is often
minimised and misunderstood, especially in regards to the time it takes to do great
analysis. I had a couple thoughts as I was reading that I just thought I’d share.
– Not all of these happen at once in the chunk of time we call analysis. You
generally need to deconstruct before you can aggregate, and so on. Your list of
techniques seems to represent a latent understanding of this (they’re in a general
process order… with perhaps the exception of transformation) but a clarification of
this might make it clearer that analysis is not just “pick a technique”
– Deconstruction and perhaps manipulation are the only two that address the “dirty”
side of analysis – getting into the data, letting it sink in (reflection), developing
hypotheses about how to make sense of it, in relation to the needs of your client.
There are other techniques that assist in that phase/time of the process – without
fancy names(abstraction?!) they are things like pulling together the themes and
major learnings (much like your Deconstruction but less top-down/structural),
mapping relationships, systems and processes to flush out the data, finding
analogies to help you think differently about the data, and so on. These can later be
manipulated or transformed but initially in the analysis process it’s important to just
see the data in lots of ways that might not be refined enough to share with
others/the client.
In any case, thanks for this!
Steve Baty on February 25, 2009 at 1:16 pm
Laura, thanks for the comment.
In a sense, what I was trying to do here was mimic what happens in a typical
analysis process: to begin to understand, often we first need to break the thing
down into its parts. The order of the techniques shown in the article make a logical
sense, but analysis work is never as clean in practice as its shown on paper. As you
go on to point out, the techniques discussed are combined to make up the
processes we read about (when they’re written about), but typically not all at once.
We pick and choose the ones we need for specific tasks.
The next step then, for me anyway, will be to manipulate, and abstract and
generalize, and hope to learn a few things along the way about analysis.
Dan Soltzberg on March 4, 2009 at 3:08 am
Steve, it’s great to see all these approaches broken out and so concisely presented.
Thanks–very useful (and it’s visually quite appealing as well).
Steve on March 4, 2009 at 1:40 pm
Great article Steve. Can you share any artifacts like worked templates or sketches?
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100th post: time to evaluate
Autom Tagsa on March 20, 2009 at 10:43 pm
brilliant post..very thorough breakdown and examination of all elements at play and
associated with deconstruction
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Deconstructing Analysis Techniques: Deconstruction
SteveJB on May 1, 2009 at 11:12 pm
A few of the processes mentioned (particularly synthesis because I had to do a
project/presentation on it) reminded me of analysis techniques that were covered
during a course called ‘critical thinking’ which I attended while studying for a degree
in International Business Administration.
I’d post the name of the b …
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