Making Air Quality meaningful in schools

Our biggest challenge was to unpack and make meaning of the research we undertook and to find emerging themes and insights. Read on to see how we used IDEO design methods to tackle this problem.


We had an opportunity to work on a combined brief with the Environmental Protection Agency and Intel Ireland. The brief was to see how we could make meaning of the available data that the EPA collect and look at solutions to make this data more meaningful for the public. Our user centred design approach lead us down an intensive two week research phase with a team of 10 interaction designers.

We kicked off the project with a day long briefing session. Over the course of the day we got to visit a data collection site run by Dublin City Council, have a presentation from the head of Air Quality in Ireland Pat X and get an overview of Intel’s ethnographic research process through similar past projects. These sessions are incredibly useful to get a design team deep diving in to an unfamiliar area. Throughout the day we were keen to note and document as much of the information as possible.

Research Phase

Once the landscape of the project and key stakeholders began to emerge we identified key research areas such as Health, Data, Perceptions and Education that we would take forward. With user centred design approach at the forefront of our skills we embarked on a two week long research phase. Over the course of the two weeks we interviewed over 100 people from across the public and industry. As a team we ensured we got as wide of a spread of data from as many different demographics as possible.


Public Interviews - Ranelagh

Emerging Insights

Once we returned to the studio we began a few sessions of unpacking the data. We initially pulled out key insights and quotes against each interview conducted. Once the data was unpacked and out on the studio walls we knew we would have a task of deciphering and synthesising the data. At this point it can be really overwhelming to know where to move forward with such a breadth of research data.

I was keen to use IDEO Design methods and techniques as I had put them in to practice previously but not on such a large scale. With this in mind we completed the following tasks:

Brainstorming is a fantastic method to help pull out as much variety and conceptual ideas at an early stage. Once the session is framed in a way that removes all constraints, you can be surprised with the results it would generate.

Unpacking the data

Unpacking the research data

The challenge lies in the task to find themes or emerging insights. Air Quality as a topic in Ireland is particularly difficult as for many people it is not a problem worth considering. Our insights were therefore heavily pointing toward the following:

Ideation and concept generation is a tough phase in any project and can often leave the team drained and exhausted when trying to find solutions. Top five is a nice method whereby each member of the team pulls out the top five ideas emerging. Together the team can pull these together and begin to communicate where the project is moving toward.

Using gut check is a perfect opportunity to take these ideas and see if they fit in with the original brief and design problem you have identified. As a team it is essential and I often would emphasise it be done on a regular basis.

Finding Themes

Grouping insights and finding themes


One of the tools we knew that would help synthesise our data was to see if we had emerging personas or personality traits which would be appropriate to design a solution for. Through our research and understanding of the different aspects of the Air Quality there were emerging profiles which we considered more vulnerable. Those helped shape our persona’s also - in our case they took the following form:

As a group we held a workshop where we condensed and collated the interview data in to the above broad categories. These helped identify key concerns for each group and offered us opportunities for design.

Moving forward

When you are lucky enough to have the opportunity invest time and effort in to the research phase of a project it can be daunting and intimidating to the team, stakeholders or clients as to where the research will lead you. As a designer it is your job to communicate the benefits and progress throughout this phase, while also being comfortable in the knowledge that the solution will emerge. Using techniques like I described above can really help focus the team and remove the uncertainty. In this particular case it drove our depth of knowledge and concepts forward while providing a foundation to validate and test our solutions during the development phase.

This synopsis is only a portion of this project. I would encourage you to watch the video below and see where the project ended up. Our team moved forward into the education and awareness space with a focus on designing environmental awareness kits for use in the classroom.

eek - Concept Video from Joe Darrer on Vimeo.

If you would like to know more about how I use design research methodologies on other projects or to discuss the outcomes of this project, don’t hesitate to get in touch.


EEK - Environmental Education Kits


10 People


Conducting large research project, finding insights, brainstorming, sythesising data