IIT Institute of Design


Please tell us about your innovative technique or tool generally and how it leads to positive outcomes, and help us understand what makes this innovation noteworthy or exceptional.: 

DESIGN RESEARCHERS DON’T HAVE THE TOOLS THEY NEED TO WORK QUICKLY AND EFFECTIVELY WHEN DEALING WITH LARGE QUALITATIVE DATA SETS. Increased volumes of user data are now relatively easy to collect, especially using data collection tools such as online research platforms. But this data abundance creates a crush at analysis time—and analysis time remains the scarcest resource on a project. For design researchers, while data sets sprawl and analysis time shrinks, analytic tools and computational support have not meaningfully evolved in twenty years. Design researchers have a deep need for a suite of small, focused tools that are simple to use, fit flexibly with a variety of analytic processes, adapt to different data sets and do not lock data into proprietary formats or researchers into predefined analytic processes. Nineteen was developed to be one such focused tool to help researchers explore their data in the early stages of analysis. NINETEEN IS A WEB-BASED TOOL DESIGNED TO SPEED THE INSIGHTS OF DESIGN RESEARCHERS WHO USE SPREADSHEETS TO MANAGE AND ANALYZE THEIR QUALITATIVE RESEARCH DATA. Many design researchers working on a research project of any scale resort to Excel to hold their data. One of the formidable hurdles of using spreadsheets to manage qualitative data is that researchers can’t see all their data at once, making the data not only difficult to navigate but challenging to develop a strong mental model of its contents. Nineteen aims to quickly engage researchers with their data and accelerate a structural understanding through a concept we call “data poking.” Data poking is the ability to rapidly explore data visually and dynamically and economically—requiring no more than a 20 minute time investment—to create familiarity with the data, raise questions about its nature, and aid the design researcher in building a mental model of the contents to carry into deeper analysis. We know of no current analysis tools that allow design researchers to work in this rapid, flexible fashion. Nineteen supports speedy investigations of user data by translating any.xlsx-formatted spreadsheet into a compact, interactive visual representation—every unit of data is represented on the screen—that then acts an interface to the data itself. The visualization allows the researcher to orient to the data and to see a high-level, holistic picture (“all media usage log entries by every user”) and any patterns revealed by the variables collected or tagged (“media usage entries by time”). The interaction model uses pop-ups to allow the researcher to quickly browse the visualization through to the raw data (“Jane’s ten hour radio listening entry”) or through a particular cluster (“all 40 year olds’ afternoon media usage”) without losing connection to the whole. Researchers always see the data in context. Lastly, the simple tool set allows the researcher to quickly configure, explore and then reconfigure the visualization according to any variable in their spreadsheet to rapidly discover correlations (i.e., activity patterns by time or date), outliers (such as over or underactive participants or segments) and other issues that are hard to spot in a sprawling spreadsheet. DATA POKING TOOLS SUCH AS NINETEEN CHANGE WHAT’S POSSIBLE FOR DESIGN RESEARCHERS AND THEIR TEAM Nineteen was intentionally designed as a first-stage exploration tool for qualitative research data, leveraging dynamic visualizations and direct manipulation to accelerate and inform subsequent data analysis. It was also designed to help researchers explore data in context and in a single, unified browsing environment—two features critical to the sense-making process. Our own early experiences using Nineteen on a public radio project also surfaced some unintentional benefits: Immersion as the data unfolds: Nineteen allowed researchers to engage in early explorations of data almost as quickly as it arrives. This enabled parallel work processes of data collection and analysis. Real-time immersion also allowed researchers to recognize potential problems with their data collection tasks ¬or with specific participants, and opened up the possibility of addressing them quickly enough to minimize the impact on the research in progress Non-linear analytic processes: Used in team settings, data poking with Nineteen produced analytic processes that became more iterative, non-linear and exploratory; this helped researchers evolve insights that then focused and accelerated deeper but targeted analytic processes. Easier communication of research: The visual and dynamic nature of Nineteen made data easier to show and share with others in the early stages of analysis, before tags had solidified or insights had been culled. Qualitative analysis is often a shared effort among immediate team members. However, engaging clients, stakeholders or subject matter experts —people who benefit from early inclusion— can prove difficult in the early stages, when data is unstructured and hard to conceptualize. Nineteen, then, can aid in the communication of research.

What can others learn from the origins of, thinking behind, and design of your technique or tool?: 

Nineteen started out simply enough: it was an effort to bring the kind of visual language that quantitative analysts have enjoyed for years to design researchers and their qualitative data. Design researchers may not run calculations on their data, but they desperately need the efficiency that visual affordances can bring to analysis. Applying basic principles of visual design helps compress large qualitative datasets into simple representations that design researchers can review more efficiently. And, when coupled with a handful of simple interactions, these representations can allow researchers to “poke” at their data in fast, effective ways. We think it’d be great for the design field if we had more tools that worked this way.

What insights, outcomes, information, etc. does your tool or technique have the capacity to generate or illuminate that might have been harder or impossible to arrive at using existing tools and techniques?: 

Existing qualitative tools, such as Envivo, MaxQDA AtlasTI, are all end-to-end platforms that force researchers into a linear analytic model and a proscribed, time-intensive approach. To commit to any of these tools is to commit to a process that produces little insight until all the work is over, and to work within a process that cannot be meaningfully adapted. Today’s practitioners would benefit from greater flexibility than these established tools can provide. Nineteen, by contrast, is a small, focused tool that uses common data exchange formats, such as.xlsx and xml. This allows researchers to mix and match Nineteen with other analytic tools to better fit the dynamic and diverse nature of their projects. Much of the value of Nineteen accumulates in the first 20 minutes of use.

How broadly can the results and outputs of your tool or technique be applied, and what are the limits of their validity and applicability?: 

Nineteen is most useful as an early stage analysis tool because it helps researchers quickly get familiar with the nature and character of a dataset. Because Nineteen can visualize any spreadsheet, it can also be useful in browsing and exploring tagged or coded data later in the analytic process. Nineteen is also designed to help researchers read their data, as the interface uses pop up windows to open up any unit of data for close, detailed reading. However, Nineteen is purely a viewing and poking environment, and is not suitable for coding or tagging data. It cannot write files. Excel is an excellent tool for tagging or editing data, and we designed Nineteen to presume that detailed work of this nature would be done outside, in a stronger text-editing environment.

Please provide one or more concrete examples of how your tool or technique has positively affected the design and success of a product, service, or other experience.: 
In 2011, Nineteen was used by a design planning team at the IIT Institute of Design on a project for Chicago public radio station, WBEZ. The class was asked to execute a rapid process of research, analysis, and concept generation in approximately eight weeks. The online research platform, Revelation, allowed them to collect data from 25 participants engaged for 6 days, and included an open-ended “listening log” so that participants could log their WBEZ listening occasions. This approach produced a flood of simultaneous data.
Nineteen brought efficiency to data-monitoring: Each day, students would export data from Revelation to review responses as they came in. Nineteen’s visual environment allowed researchers to shift between a high-level aggregate view of the data to a close inspection of individual responses without changing screens. This simultaneous paring of abstracted and detailed views allowed the team to identify specific participants who needed additional engagement to improve response rates or quality. It also allowed the team to build and evolve an understanding of the participants, both as individuals and as a collective. A number of students also chose to use Nineteen as a reading and viewing interface because of its ability to present the text and image responses of all participants to a specified task.
Nineteen helped the team speed through a series of early-stage analytic tasks: One such task was simply to determine if responses to a given activity balanced out across individuals and segments. A quick visual assessment using Nineteen revealed a well-balanced response rate—so far, so good. A second task was to test the expectations among WBEZ staff and the design team that the website might be a major point of interaction for participants. In a matter of minutes, Nineteen’s visualization of the listening log entries told a different story—it was clear that radio was by far the most common point of contact, regardless of participant age. A third task was to understand how WBEZ users interact across media. For example, the team sought to understand Facebook’s role in driving contact with WBEZ. Nineteen’s full-text search feature revealed many entries that include the word “Facebook.” Using Nineteen’s pop-up feature to read just those log entries revealed two thing. First, entries that matched “Facebook” and used the website as a channel came from only two participants; however, those entries all mentioned being driven to the WBEZ website by Facebook and not the other way around. Second, in most of the other cases, participants noted they were using Facebook while listening to content from WBEZ. This suggested a possible theme that eventually emerged from the study as a whole: WBEZ is often a constant companion during listeners’ days, sometimes as the focus of attention, and other times as a background companion as participants multitask.
The use of Nineteen directed the WBEZ team’s attention to two provisional insights that emerged more strongly during close reading of the entries and developed into design principles for prototype development: first, that WBEZ is radio and their users value it for the qualities that radio entails; second, WBEZ is a constant companion for some listeners: at home, at work, in the car, WBEZ is the soundtrack to their day. The team used those two insights as part of a network of ideas that were instrumental in developing the WBEZ Broadcast Browser concept presented to the WBEZ board in spring of 2012.
How might your tool or technique serve as the inspiration or starting point for future innovations?: 

The experience of Nineteen has developed into a bigger quest for a suite of tools that work in this simple, focused way. We call this quest Small Packages for Big (Qualitative) Data. We think of Nineteen and Small Packages like a nurse’s toolkit: a collection of small, focused tools that require minimal training and effort to use, that each have a clear context of use and that extend the natural abilities of practitioners, rather than replace them. We also propose that such tools become more valuable when they are designed to be “loosely coupled,” referring to a concept in system and interface design that seeks to reduce the interdependencies of components in a system in order to increase independent functioning and create more flexible responses. We would like to inspire others to contribute to this toolkit, as design researchers are the proverbial shoemakers children—we help create work support tools for so many other fields but rarely take the time to create useful tools for ourselves.