What is it?

A 2x2 is an organizational diagram used to illustrate how many things compare across two dimensions. Within a single dataset, a 2x2 can show trends, outliers, and areas of saturation and scarcity. In the context of design, this diagram can describe opportunities for impact and areas ripe for innovation. It also can be used to determine the relative quality of design ideas. Because the 2x2 maps one criterion on the x axis and an alternative criterion on the y axis, the grid of four quadrants show all possible combinations of those two criteria.

How do I do it?

Decide which evaluation criteria are most important for your particular context, and label the axes with this criteria. For example, if you are synthesizing raw data from your research, you might map "urgency of problem" against "prevalence of problem"; this mapping would describe how common you think the problem is, and how critical it is to solve it quickly. If you are synthesizing initial design ideas to understand which to pursue, you might map "feasibility of solution" against "potential impact."

Next, draw the 2x2 in big scale. A large wall is ideal, with painter's tape for the axes.

Make a card for each data point you are evaluating. For example, to evaluate utterances from a contextual inquiry, you would write one sentence or utterance per card; Generate cards quickly by exporting an Excel spreadsheet to mailing labels (using Microsoft Word's "mail merge" feature). to evaluate design ideas, you would draw idea per card. In a group of participants—including designers and other stakeholders—read each card aloud, and make sure everyone understands it. Then, plot each point on the graph. When you find the proper place for each point, stick it to the wall with tape or a pushpin.

When you have about ten data points on the grid, revisit the first few. You may need to reposition them because you placed them before you had a point of reference. As you progress through the data, continue to re-negotiate space; especially when you have data points stacked on top of each other, reposition them as needed.

When you have mapped all of the data, examine the results. Look for a story you can tell about the data concentration in the center of the map and in each quadrant, particularly the extreme corner areas. Why is that data interesting? What commonalities appear? How can you describe the path from one corner to another?

An example 2x2: Methods, showing duration vs. phase of engagement

When should I use it?

Use a 2x2 when you have a large data set that you need to make more manageable or memorable. You might make a 2x2 on the first day of research and continually revise it over the course of your investigation. Or you might make one during ideation and design—as you produce ideas, you can map them to understand their relative appropriateness

What is the output, and how can I use it?

The 2x2 itself acts as a tangible artifact you can present to stakeholders; in fact, it's beneficial to create the 2x2 with stakeholders and other nondesigners because the resulting diagram represents diverse points of view. You can extract patterns from the 2x2 to present as unique insights that can be traced back to individual data points.

Where can I learn more?

Read The Power of the 2 x 2 Matrix: Using 2 x 2 Thinking to Solve Business Problems and Make Better Decisions by Alex Lowy and Phil Hood.

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Theory of Change

Wicked Problems: Problems Worth Solving