Visual Exercises

2

Definition

A visual exercise is an activity that engages the participant in drawing, diagraming or writing ideas on paper, followed by time for participants to share and answer questions about what they created.

Overview

Participants are asked to spend time individually or in small groups to draw or write their response to a set of questions and instructions using paper and markers. Afterwards participants are asked to share what they have created and questions are asked to draw out more detail on interesting insights that arise.

Resources

Visual Exercises Overview (Dharamsala)

These visual exercises relate to the examples listed below. They were created for fieldwork conducted with the Tibetan Exile Community but may be repurposed for many different communities.

Visual Exercises Templates (Dharamsala)

These are simple powerpoint templates to print out and share. They are modeled after the examples listed in the previous resource.

Why

Activities that engage the creative side of a participant helps unlock insights that may otherwise go unnoticed. Visual exercises are a valuable complement to other research activities that focus solely on verbal communication. Insights often arise through these activities that would not have emerged otherwise.

Resources

Visual Exercises Overview (TorDev)

These visual exercises relate to the examples listed below. They were created for fieldwork conducted with developers at the Tor dev meeting but may be repurposed for many different communities.

Visual Exercises Templates (TorDev)

These are simple powerpoint templates to print out and share. They are modeled after the examples listed in the previous resource.

How

Revisit your research goals and think about which questions could be answered visually. These are often questions in which there is a lot of information to extract that could potentially be delivered more effectively in a visual manner – such as a map of communications.

Build a self-explanatory set of instructions for the participant. A visual exercise should contain a brief summary and set of questions that allow a participant to guide themselves through the activity with only a short introduction.

Set the stage for your participants. Tell your participants what you will be doing and why. Give them a clear sense of how the next period of time will be used and what the goals are so there are no unknowns. Be careful to avoid the use of words like this will be ‘simple’ or ‘easy’ as it might not be that for everyone. Give people adequate time and quiet to reflect and work. Don’t feel a need to make conversation. Let your participant focus.

Follow up each exercise with a sharing and discussion period. After an exercise is completed, ask participants to share what they created with the group. It is generally not necessary for each person to share everything. The purpose is to draw out unique insights and understand when there is broad support for ideas that are expressed. When a participant shares a potentially unique insight, ask probing questions and have them express the idea in more depth.

Don’t give specific examples unless necessary. Telling your users how another individual or group completed the exercise can quickly lead to bias in the response of a participant. Use only broad suggested such as “diagrams, photos, or even just text are acceptable.” Only resort to specific examples if the participants appear to struggle with which direction to take.

These exercises can be adapted to suit your goals and needs. These exercises are templates that can be modified to suit your particular goals and needs. You can adapt the tool design exercise, for example, to have users co-create a UI for a specific element of a tool. Alternatively, you could adapt the connectivity exercise to focus exclusively on mobile communications.

Remember

  • Translate your visual exercises into the local language.
  • Have plenty of paper and markers on hand for participants to use.
  • Ask your participants to write their name or common identifier on the exercises so you can connect them to notes taken.
Examples From The Field:

Connectivity Exercise

Examples From The Field:

Visual Exercises in Dharamsala

Examples and Additional Resources

This framework provides examples of five different visual exercises that SecondMuse created for their research activities. Below are brief descriptions of each. Remember that these are starting points – you can craft your own to address your goals and research questions.

Exercises for Users:

These exercises are best used to understand how a user interacts with communication technology, perceives their own security threats, and what elements of security and communication are important priorities for them. It is recommended that they are used in sequential order.

Examples From The Field:

Exercise 1: Connectivity Exercise

Exercises for Working with Technology Creators:

In addition to exercises to better understand users, there are two exercises to better understand developers. These can be used in conjunction with the user-centric exercises to understand and check assumptions that are present in the development of a tool. These exercises do not need to be used sequentially.

Examples From The Field:

Exercise 4: Map Your Development Process

Examples From The Field:

Exercise 5: Who Is Your User?