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  • How Graphic Recording Techniques Help You Understand Your Research

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    The Power of Visuals Compels You … (to do what?)


    The power of visuals is unquestionable: it’s apparent throughout our lives and yet we don’t even think about it. This is because images work effectively as information shorthand, part of a universally understood vernacular. We’re surrounded by examples like traffic lights, safety diagrams, and common icons such as the wifi signal or the ‘like’ button; Studies show that we’re far more likely to remember a visual than text.


    As graphic recorders and graphic facilitators, we’re experts in speaking the visual language. We’re trained to translate complex ideas, thoughts, and information into powerful images. We do this by listening to a conversation or discussion, synthesizing the content, and delivering the message in pictures. We work with everyone from Google to NASA to Microsoft to translate their big ideas into actionable insight.


    Today’s user expects interactive, engaging, and intuitive design. If they have to stop and think about it, that reflects a blind spot towards user needs. How do you gauge good or bad design before it becomes scrutinized in a searing blog post, or in customer reviews?


    Turn Complex Data into Insights


    Understanding users is the foundation of good design. Because visuals are so critical to the user, why not speak their language to understand what’s needed from you? Here are some simple techniques you can employ when you’re refining your research to determine the best design for your users. 


    Use Templates to Gather and Organize Information


    As graphic facilitators, we have firsthand experience helping our clients work their lofty ideas into actionable plans. One of the tools we use in these sessions are visual templates.


    Whether you’re an individual or a part of a team evaluating data in a strategy session, templates are a great way to help filter large amounts of information into refined results.


    Think of a template as a pre-drawn visual metaphor that you bring to a group to populate. The metaphor helps stimulate their creativity by reminding them of the content, while giving everyone a shared reference point. By creating a narrative framework with imagery, raw data starts as numbers and ends as a compelling story.


    Additionally, it also creates clear prompts for key areas for the group to consider. This avoids the common problem of having a design session get derailed by those folks who dive too deep into details, or spin off on tangents. They filter out the noise and extract only what’s needed with just a few simple lines.


    When starting to use visual templates, work backwards. Define your ultimate objective and desired output. Once this is determined, it is easy to select an appropriate visual. Below, we share some of our best tried and true visual templates and let you know exactly what situations they work best in.


    Create focus and alignment


    If Your goal is to better understand a user’s motives, use an empathy map.


    Put yourself in the user’s shoes to see and understand how they navigate an interface, or to glimpse into a user’s experience from a different perspective. Create a target user – i.e. a 24 year old millennial that craves in-person, face to face interactions, or a 65 year old baby boomer that has taken very well to social media – to better frame their point of view around how they’re thinking and feeling about an experience. 


    Make sense of user goals


    Your goal is to see a holistic view of your user’s interactions with you. Use a journey map.



    Want to know what the user’s path to action was? Did they use a desktop, or was their path forward on mobile? It’s important to understand where a user comes from, where they end up, and how they got there. Diagram and discern user motivations and needs, as well as challenges, so that you’re left with concise, clear and connected ideas.


    Your goal is to look ahead and map actions to your intended goals. Use a priority map.



    Gathering insight is useless if you don’t set it into action with a realistic outlook on what your goals are. Prioritize and reflect their importance in your process, so you know you’re on track to achieve these goals. Creating a timeline directs you to be held accountable for achieving your goals and delivering an optimal experience to a user.


    These are just a few examples of simple templates that can yield powerful insights from your data.


    Develop nuanced personae and manageable action plans


    Now that you’ve gained insight into your user’s unique needs and challenges, how do you plan to leverage them?


    Use the templates you’ve created to pinpoint user concerns and challenges that weren’t apparent before, and to harness actionable items to address those concerns.  Next chart them onto a simple visual to help guide you and your team through a nuanced strategy tailored to your specific user base and their needs. 


    You can use your new visual strategy map to assign owners to each action item, plan deadlines, and ensure that everyone in your team is on the same page.


    Speak the visual language- a visual template can transform complex, nuanced ideas into achievable, clarified goals. 


    About the Author


    Author at ImageThink, a leaders in the graphic facilitation field, which has supported over 300 sessions per year, meaning we’ve logged tens of thousands of hours over the seven years we’ve been in business. ImageThink also got featured in TED Talks, on the Today Show, and in Forbes and the Wall Street Journalour team has visualized the big ideas of some of the most influential companies and thought leaders in thirteen countries on four continents.



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