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Sunday, September 27, 2009

Variations on Themes

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People are a strange bunch. As individualistic as any person may seem, patterns will eventually emerge, indicative of a structure that controls the variation on themes across the entire human population. These themes are extractable; you just need the right set of tools.

It's best to start off simple. Because the sheer complexity of these themes, we need a means to create representation. Using physical models such as affinity diagrams, we can consolidate a team's thinking all onto a single white board - a cohesive gel of relationships revealing common issues and their themes.
We do the affinity tango when we've got "just the right amount of data." This constitutes to about 10-20 people on average, with about 50-100 notes from each person (though this varies depending on the size of the problem space). So, unless you have a wedding reception to attend to, you're going to be at it for a while.

Now, let's start. You build the affinity diagram from the bottom up - like SimTower. Not knowing what the top's going to look like, you hoard similar ideas together, using inductive reasoning to develop new design inquiries for every note. As you start to build up, you'll start to notice a string of common patterns.

Once you've accumulated enough support for a particular pattern, you can group these manageable chunks of data into even higher-order groupings. Eventually, you can use these hierarchical towers to tell a story of an entire population. Taken together, the consolidated models provide a detailed outline about work needed to inform a design.

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