Tutorial: Making Sense—Leading Teams Through Synthesis

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The synthesis phase presents a unique challenge to collaboration. Synthesis requires teams to make creative leaps, and to have a trusted, systematic approach with which to do so.

This tutorial will equip practitioners to create favorable conditions for creative thinking and team alignment. It draws on theories of creativity and the psychology of memory and transition in order to practically address the intellectual and emotional challenges of synthesis. We’ll address the logic by which new insights and ideas emerge in synthesis through a grounding in abductive reasoning, found in fields such as anthropology, literature, engineering, and AI. We’ll also explore how to maintain a sense of progress by marking peaks, lows, and transitions throughout the experience. This two-fold approach to synthesis will allow participants to reflect on past experiences and practice future interactions intended to guide teams through the intellectual and emotional tensions of creating new knowledge and design.

Participants will leave the tutorial more confident in their ability to lead teams through synthesis via exercises designed to be useful at the beginning, middle, and end of sensemaking, such as:

  • Encouraging psychological safety through interpersonal team exercises
  • Keeping momentum going by closing dead ends and redirecting conversations
  • Solidifying confidence in the team’s progress by translating insights into physical objects


Ksenia Pachikov works at the intersection of human-centered research, visual communication of insight, and early concept development. She leads research across multiple domains, including media, education, medical, smart devices, and insurance. She started this practice out of the belief that to be effective, research needs to be transparent, efficient and focused on implications. She holds a Master of Design from the Institute of Design in Chicago and has taught at the School of Visual Arts and Parsons the New School for Design.

Marta Cuciurean-Zapan is a design researcher and Design Lead at IDEO’s Chicago studio. At IDEO, she is focused on building innovative research approaches, futures perspectives, and the intersection of content and culture in teamwork. Marta also teaches human centered research and design at DePaul University. She has a Master’s in Cultural Anthropology from Temple University and a Bachelor’s in Anthropology and Art Theory and Practice from Northwestern University.

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

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