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Making Insight: Practical techniques and emerging theories for data analysis

About the Talk

March 31, 2011 5:00 AM

Denver, CO

Denver, CO


As designers, we eventually find ourselves standing in front of a wall with a marker and a pad of sticky notes. We struggle to break down the complexity before us. We work to make sense of the data mountain. We search for meaningful patterns. Most importantly, we strive to develop insights into a design problem.

This full-day workshop is about the art of making insight. More specifically, it is about the challenge of making insight when designing "information things" — smartphone apps, media devices, information-rich websites, search interfaces, and more — that provide meaningful, networked, and multi-participant experiences.

The primary goal of this workshop is to give you hands-on experience analyzing and making sense of qualitative data with a discrete set of techniques. You will learn a structured approach to analyzing information, coupled with a systematic, yet open-ended, way of generating insights.

The secondary goal is to show you these same techniques can be understood as as the elements of a design framework for describing complex, networked multi-participant interactions.


The information world is fragmenting. As designers, we can no longer assume that people work with digital information in traditional computing environments: sitting down, at a desk, with keyboard and mouse. Furthermore, we can no longer assume that people work within a single website, a single application, or even a single device.

Digital information is increasingly mobile, and yet the future is not just about mobile devices. It is a future where people coordinate a myriad of networked devices and information things to achieve their goals: keyboards, tablets, smartphones, digital tables, gesture-detection systems, and many more. This future is already our present.

How do we describe this reality? How do we analyze this vastly richer world of networked information things? How do we do design in a world that is only becoming more messy, physical, social, and multi-dimensional? We call this challenge designing for the network — the complex milieux of information-rich objects, devices, systems, and relationships that comprise our everyday world.

We've been exploring this challenge from both academic and practitioner perspectives. Our goal is two-fold.

First, to understand how designers can rapidly and reliably analyze information gathered from user studies and then work with this information to design rich experiences that happen at multiple network connection points — phones, browsers, tablets, and other devices.

Second, to develop a richer design vocabulary that can address the technologies of today, as well as the technologies of tomorrow — those we can predict and those we can barely imagine.

This workshop will share the emerging framework of what we’re learning (both theory and practice) with other practitioners.


This full-day workshop will teach practical analysis techniques through a combination of instructional sessions, structured discussions and hands-on practice.

The first half of the workshop will be spent learning techniques in a contextual environment. You will get your hands dirty right away with a complex practice problem using real data. You will learn a set of practical techniques for analyzing messy data in a rigorous and effective way. These techniques draw from our extensive experience with these kinds of analytical problems.

The second half of the workshop will peel back the skin of these techniques and dig into their theoretical underpinnings. We will show you how this theory can be used to analyze your own work practices, as well as how it applies to people working with information things in everyday life. You will gain a new a conceptual vocabulary for describing interactive processes that are open-ended, generative, and rooted in a physical approach to working with digital information. This aspect of the workshop draws from research in distributed cognition, embodied interaction, and tangible computing.

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