Last week I found myself inside in a 10’X20’ windowless room. The walls were covered in post-it notes — each containing a thought, quote, or idea more intriguing than the next. We were looking for themes. Design Thinking – Making connections where previously there were none. We had just completed over 120 hours of ethnographic field research. My colleagues and I had conducted focus groups, 1:1 interviews, role shadowing, analogous research, and best practice research. And now we were trapped in a small room with so many post-it notes that I had forgotten what the original color of the walls was. We were in synthesis.

Synthesis: the combination of ideas to form a theory or system. In Human-Centered Design, synthesis is part of the framing opportunities stage. Where are the pain points? Where are the workarounds? These are the questions you are looking for answers to. And in the process you develop tremendous empathy for those that work/live/play in the ecosystem you are studying.

After weeks of being trapped in our post-it filled room, we emerged with insights. And those insights gave me a day like today….a day of feeling victorious. The day where I presented the stories, the themes, the pain points…..and, most importantly, the insights to executive stakeholders. The day where I watched executives become speechless — astounded by our discoveries and the rightness of the insights. It is a magical feeling when you “nail it”. And now we can begin to design solutions that will actually tackle the real issues.

So I want to encourage you to not jump to solutions. Do your research. Do your ethnographic research. Make sure you completely understand the ecosystem in which you are solutioning for. Have empathy for those that are experiencing the pain points. And I promise, you too will get to experience that magical feeling that only comes when you truly “nail it”.

Happy Innovating!
— Christine

By Christine Folck
Christine manages multiple, innovation design processes and is our lead facilitator for ethnographic studies to develop new processes, technologies or applications for current technology. Christine is our go to technology and behavior change guru.