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Let’s start with a little story, before we get into the details of Design Research. A certain company is looking to develop the develop an innovative writing device that users who don’t know to write can write with. To get things moving, the company is looking to hire a design agency to help with the design.
A leading design company puts together a proposal for $150,000 for this interesting project. It chooses to spend about 30% of the time on conducting research with a design team of about 6-7 people. When the agency submits the proposal to the client, there is a different kind of conversation that ensues. The client is not happy with the design company budgeting for $50,000 for doing design-research. They say that they already have done an extensive user research across the length and breadth of the organization. Every attempt by the design company, to explain how design-research is different from a blanket user research, goes unheard. Sounds familiar?
Sometimes proposals like the above gets turned-down by the design firms, but at times design agencies take up such contracts for various reasons. The outcome of projects where design research is thoroughly executed usually says it all.
Design Research is a qualitative and quantitative research done at the very beginning of the design process where a team of designers observe real people as they perform tasks to achieve a goal. Designers observe peoples’ habits, behaviors, styles, language, tools used and workarounds adopted to achieve a goal or while engaging in an experience.
The most innovative products are not the ones with good looks and aesthetics alone. They are the ones that solve real problems, not perceived, second-level problems. They seem a natural fit into their users daily lives, that they would be missed when removed form the ecosystem.
The goal of design-research is to find inspiration for design. Designers focus on people and the uniquenesses and peculiarities in their interaction with the world around in achieving a certain goal. The design research leads to new and interesting ideas. Design research activity creates multiple triggers in the human brain that lead to interesting new design ideas.
Design Research is broadly a three-part process where the design team observes:
In today’s consumer-centric world of products, Product Managers have started to do a lot of this design research. The role of designers has started to change as much as that of Product Managers. Design Thinking has started to see the two roles overlap a lot in the design research stage. The outcome of Design Research should be kept in the Product Master Plan, as it is a key living guide that can be revisited for doubts and updated as the market changes.
If you are interested in learning more about Design Research, here are a few I’d recommend:
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