Good Research Question: Can you draw [the company or other subject of study]?
Want to understand how people think about and interpret a complex concept? Ask them to try drawing it.
If you want to make a complex or multifaceted concept clearer, ask someone to draw it. When the Helpfully team is working with a new company or trying to understand where a process might be breaking down, we like to ask employees, “Can you draw the company?” It's a practical way to see how well an employee understands the company. This question can be applied to anything, from ‘drawing the internet’ to drawing ‘how a bike works’ to planning how a business should run.
Part 1: Insights from drawing internet, bikes, and a company
Exploring real-world examples of drawing, we look at how people think about abstract ideas like the internet. In articles such as "How would you draw the internet?" and "Draw the internet the world as seen by the worlds school children,” people have to be creative when drawing the internet. Younger children often draw people, houses, and connections, while older children add brands and logos.
Moving from abstract concepts to real objects, the article "The Science of Cycology: Can You Draw a Bicycle?" by cognitive psychologist Rebecca Lawson looks at how people draw bicycles. Despite knowing how to ride a bike, participants struggled to draw its mechanics accurately, showing they sometimes overestimate their understanding. Recognize gaps in understanding.
These insights apply to organizations. The article "Silos and Sub-Optimization in an Operating Model" from On The Mark underscores the importance of teamwork and understanding within a company's framework. Exploring interconnectedness of different parts and pieces of a company, listening to diverse perspectives from within the company, can help organizations see where their process might be unclear or breaking down. They can adjust strategies to better suit their needs. When you ask a team to draw the organization, it helps create shared language, understanding, and reveal gaps in understanding.
Part 2 - What to notice in someone’s drawing:
When you ask someone to draw a complex concept, like a company, take note of these elements:
- Starting points: Where do participants begin drawing the company? This could reveal their perceived focal points or priorities within the organization. Or does it reflect their position or their department?
- Key components: Identify the specific components or departments included in the drawings, such as sales, marketing, operations, etc. This can help gauge participants' awareness of different facets of the organization.
- Organization: How do participants organize the elements of the company within their drawings? What do they depict of the structure and hierarchy present?
- Product or Service Representation: How do participants depict the products or services offered by the company? This may indicate their view of the company's core offerings. If the company does not sell physical products, their depictions of what they do sell will be insightful. For example, we’ve seen people in banking and finance draw clouds of insights and insurance professionals draw icons representing contracts.
- Complexity: Assess the level of detail and complexity in the drawings. This can reflect participants' depth of understanding or familiarity with various aspects of the company.
Piece 3: Observing Connections
How someone draws their organization or company will give you valuable insights if you know how to find them. To gather valuable insights, take note of these elements:
- Visual Structure: Notice how participants depict the connections within the organization.
- Leadership Placement: Observe whether participants place leadership roles close to or far from other components.
- Personal Perspective: Recognize that each participant may have a unique perspective, often starting with their department or responsibilities.
For UX researchers, understanding how people think about and interpret complex concepts is crucial for designing intuitive and user-friendly experiences. Using drawing exercises, UX researchers can gain deeper insights into users' mental models, identify misconceptions, and uncover areas where users may struggle to understand or interact with a product, system, or even a company.