The Importance of Design Research
Design Research is critical to the development of successful and appropriate designs. Research bridges the gap between the designer and client, providing in-depth understanding of the target user and the environment the solution needs to fit within. The best designs are reached when there is an awareness of system complexities and user behaviours – solutions are more informed, considerate, and inclusive.
As a user-centred industry, research must be the foundation for design projects and the measure that they are tested against.
Brief or Research First?
Over the course of Assessment 2B, constant emphasis was placed on developing a good brief. We spent weeks trying to determine the client, problem space, and what our design set out to achieve; but all of these were completed without speaking to a single student about their thoughts on waste. We stagnated and there were disagreements on the best course of action. This is an example of a design occurring in isolation from the problem space. Steve Calde from Cooper Design Consultancy summarises our dilemma with his quote:
“Sometimes, a product vision is not well articulated to begin with, but is rather a collection of good ideas with vague requirements. Discovering this at the beginning of an initiative can save a lot of grief later. If your [group] does not have a clear idea of what they want to build… you will never be able to design a product that meets expectations.” (Calde 2008)
We got stuck because we were trying to find a problem without looking. Our designs were solutions that we thought were good, but carried no weight because they weren’t justified by a need. There wasn’t a backbone to tell us that what we had was what people needed. A similar view is held by Tony Fadell, Industrial Designer from Apple, who says that:
“It’s hard to solve a problem that almost no one can see. Seeing the invisible problem, not just the obvious problem, is important not just for product design but for everything you do. There are invisible problems all around us.” (TED 2015)
Because we are accustomed to being given “the problem” at the beginning of an assignment, we didn’t know how to move forward without one. Assignment 2B taught us that in some cases you have to find one and frame it yourself. If we can immerse ourselves into research to see “invisible problems” sooner, we would find it much easier to develop briefs and then design for the user.
Our Research Methods
Our research consisted of Semi-Structured Interviews, Video Ethnography, Surveys and Mapping. By starting with qualitative research methods, our project was driven by users’ thoughts and frustrations. Interviews are incredibly useful for highlighting areas of potential change because they can reach beyond the scope of closed yes / no questions. Steve Perry from Macquarium Design is in support of this opinion, stating:
“The value of qualitative research is in completing the picture of customer understanding by getting to the why and how of what they are doing. Qualitative research can help understand customer psychology for greater customer engagement, such as their habits and emotions in relationship to your products.” (Perry 2014)
Having a specific image of our users meant that our goals were clearer. Video Ethnography was conducted to test if our insights were accurate, then Surveys were dispersed to attach statistical data to our findings. The Mapping component allowed us to see opportunities for intervention and touch points within our chosen space – the UTS Underground Food Court.
The combined use of Qualitative and Quantitative research methods was useful not in addressing our brief, but creating it. Our use of Research Methods early in the project ensured that user-centeredness was at our project’s core. Our project is a success not because it can or will be implemented, but because it is relevant. This relevance is the impact that appropriate research methods can have on the design process.
Calde, S. 2008, ‘Design Research: why you need it’, Cooper Design Journal, Vol. 1, viewed 9 June 2017, <https://www.cooper.com/journal/2003/03/design_research_why_you_need_i?>.
Perry, S. 2014, ‘The Value of Qualitative Research’, Macquarium, Vol. 1, viewed 10 June 2017, <http://blog.macquarium.com/the-value-of-qualitative-research/>.
TED 2015, The First Secret of Great Design, video recording, Youtube, viewed 9 June 2017, <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9uOMectkCCs>.
Meade, E. 2012, What I Do, Erica Meade.com, viewed 11 June 2017, < http://ericameade.com/whatido.html>.