26 May 2021 Tenaka

Transcribing data

Get your design thinking research data from recording to sticky note

Without a systematic way to start and keep data clean, bad data will happen.” — Donato Diorio

Prepare your research data so that you can make sense of it

Transcribing is taking recorded data – in the case of design thinking, from research sessions – into a written format so that you can make sense of it. The most useful way of doing this, particularly for a data synthesis method known as affinity mapping, is to get it onto sticky notes, such as Post-its®, because this allows you to move each data point around and have all points spread across your data wall.

Transcribing after a design thinking research session helps you stay engaged during the session

You should transcribe data when you have completed your research session and before you go into data synthesis. Transcribing after the research session avoids having to take notes during the session – when you want to be wholly engaged. It gives you a chance to acquaint (or reacquaint if you were part of the research session) yourself with the data so that you can begin to make observations.

Having data points on sticky notes is essential for methods like affinity mapping (see Affinity mapping method). For other synthesis methods, such as content analysis, typing into a transcript template will suffice.

Transcribing bridges the gap between research and synthesis

Transcribing is an essential part of the research-synthesis process because it’s the only way to get your data onto the wall so that you can make sense of all of it at once. It is the bridge to synthesis. The design team needs to be able to interact with and analyse respondents’ actual thoughts. The integrity of the data you produce through transcribing can affect the quality of the research findings that arise in synthesis.

Things to consider when transcribing data

  • You can transcribe as you go – so, there’s no need to wait until your entire research phase is complete
  • Keep your design challenge and research objectives in mind, and transcribe everything you believe to be useful to data synthesis. So, leave out:
    • ‘um’s and ‘er’s
    • repetition that occurs naturally when someone is simply formulating their thoughts as they talk (*repetition of another kind is important to keep in – see below for an explanation)
    • tangents – when conversation goes in a direction that is not related to the research topic and is not helpful to what you are trying to learn. This is bound to happen sometimes, but you don’t need to spend time scrutinising it afterwards.
  • Type out your transcript to fit into a sticky note template so that you can print directly onto sticky notes – this is many times quicker than writing directly onto sticky notes
  • Include context. If a respondent refers to, for example, ‘it’, ‘him’, ‘they’, or gives a one-word answer to a question, add context in square brackets so that each data point stands alone and doesn’t need explanation – remember that the person transcribing may not be the person synthesising data.
  • Keep the essence of the person in your transcribed data – this gives you clues as to how they think, not just what they think

*When a respondent repeats a phrase or thought many times in a session, this shows the importance of the thought to them. Keep this in mind when transcribing.

For those sticky, unfamiliar words and phrases.

Data wall:

the wall you stick your data onto when you create an affinity map


making sense of or processing qualitative data, which can include what people said, photos, drawings and other artefacts gathered in research

Affinity mapping:

a data synthesis method where you group related data points using sticky notes, and find meaning through themes and insights

Content analysis:

a data synthesis method using data analysis software to find themes and connections between data points

Design challenge:

a big-picture question to keep you focussed throughout a project, with the intention of coming up with a solution

Research objectives:

what you want to find out from your research – this is informed by your design challenge and project background and guides the questions you ask in your research sessions

Design team:

the team of people who are involved in the design thinking project. It is always better to have several people involved in the project – and sometimes it is essential

Hi there. We’ve linked any words that might be unfamiliar to you to a glossary at the bottom.

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