Advancing the Value of Ethnography

Tutorial: Information Design for Ethnographic Analysis



Ethnographic analysis is the examination of raw data with an interpretative lens to identify themes, connections and patterns. How can you make this process more accessible to support data socialization and encourage collaboration from all members of an organization or team? In this tutorial you will learn and practice information design principles and visual frameworks to support research data analysis, translate findings into tangible forms and share learnings with more clarity.

This hands-on tutorial will help ethnographic and design researchers analyze and synthesize field research data in a structured and visual way. Tutorial participants will create visuals that keep the power of the text, its meanings and emotions, without oversimplifying or misrepresenting the data. The tutorial will cover:

  • Information design principles for supporting ethnographic research
  • Six ways of seeing and showing for analyzing data and visualizing insights
  • Basic visual coding techniques
  • Application of basic frameworks to translate findings into tangible forms
  • A method for sharing research findings
  • Examples of broader impact of information design and visual thinking in design research, systems thinking and ethnography

Working in small teams and without digital tools, participants will receive data sets gathered using ethnographic methods that they will have to analyze by completing a series of exercises. Participants will use visual techniques and frameworks to uncover connections, identify patterns and make abstract concepts tangible. The session will end with discussion and examples of how visual techniques can support other steps in the research process. Participants will receive a handout with techniques and frameworks explored during the day.

No drawing experience is required, but openness and willingness to explore a different way of thinking is.
Participants will be asked to complete a light reading assignment prior to the tutorial to help make the most of the session.


Sheila Pontis, PhD, is an information design researcher, educator, author and practitioner working in the intersection of information design, cognitive science, and field research. Her work and research explore sensemaking and visualization, and investigate how people interact with information, particularly the process and methods people use. She has extensive experience in higher education, having taught in Argentina, Spain, the UK and the U.S. Currently, she is faculty at Princeton University teaching creativity, information design and design thinking. She is also a partner at Sense Information Design, a New York-area design consultancy, helping clients with understanding and communication challenges.

This tutorial was conducted at EPIC2019 in Providence, Rhode Island.

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