Design Your Career: Set Deadlines
Design Your Career: Harvest Insights

Design Your Career: Looking for Themes


Over the course of the next few weeks, I'm showing you how to apply design thinking and principles to your career planning and development. The series of posts so far is here

As you begin capturing your learning in the Interpretation phase, you should also begin looking for themes and patterns. This can take some time, but is well worth the effort. Here are ideas for getting started:


1. Review your Idea Book and all of your documentation to identify repeating words and patterns. 

 Look for common themes and ideas, particularly those that seem interesting or exciting to you. Write key phrases or concepts on Post It Notes or index cards so that you can cluster common ideas together more easily as you search for patterns. If you're a color-coding type of thinker, consider using different colored Post-Its for different themes.

Look for quotes that capture your ideas. If you have taken pictures or otherwise used visuals to document your research, be sure to write down the emotions or ideas these visuals evoke for you. There can be patterns in those as well.  

2. Cluster your ideas and give them a "headline. "

Organize your Post Its or index cards into clusters around the themes you are identifying. Then give them a "headline." Depending on your project, these may be things like "Skills to Learn" or "Ideas for Starting a Side Business." 



3. Look for links between themes. 

As you continue to work with your themes, start looking for links between themes. Can you group several related themes into a larger category? What contradictions or tensions do you see? What surprises you or excites you?

Over the years as I've looked at ways to reinvigorate my business, I've often found inspiration in looking at how to bring together disparate themes from different parts of my life--for example, can I bring visual art into my work? Or can I somehow incorporate my love of the journaling process into what I'm doing?

Look for serendipitous or potentially surprising themes you could link together as these could suggest potential things to experiment with later in the design process. 

4. Get input from the outside.

As you play around with your themes, try sharing your thinking with other people who might be able to give you some additional ideas or input. Talk to some trusted friends or colleagues or with your significant other. 

Often simply the process of sharing your thoughts out loud can begin to bring ideas into focus; you find yourself saying something that really "clicks." And of course, others can give you different insights or perspectives that suggest new ways of looking at your themes or different ways to organize and think about them. 

5. Be prepared to let go. 

One thing that can happen in the Discovery and Interpretation phases is that you can become overwhelmed with the information you've gathered. It can be helpful to return to your original design challenge  to remind yourself of some of the boundaries you may have set. It may be that you need to set some things aside for now to focus specifically on those things that are related to your challenge. 

You may also find that you are uncovering stories and ideas that aren't particularly helpful or that are less important to the work at hand. Be sure to set them aside, physically removing them from your design space, so that you can keep your focus on those themes and ideas that are most relevant to the work you want to do right now. 

In our next post, we'll continue with the Interpretation phase and take a look at how to develop insight into your findings. For now, see what you can do to identify and link some themes together as a way of clarifying some things for yourself. 



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