Design research is about understanding real people in the context of their everyday lives and then using what we learn to inspire our work. – Dan Perkel
This quote from an article written by Dan Perkel – one of IDEOs design researchers – for me communicates the importance of research in a design process very well. Most things we design are designed for any kind of interaction with people. This interaction has many layers and can reach from operability, maintainability or just aesthetics. Strong focus on “human-centered-design” therefore is just obvious. High quality and more important the right research helps to raise empathy for processes and the intersection points with humans.
Within the design project, me and my group have undertaken several types of research methods. While thinking of a lot more research methods we wanted to use in the first place, our brief and design process broke the methodologies – in terms of quality and need – down to five different research methods.
Initially, a lot of the first steps in the design process were supported by observation. After considering various parts of the big system UTS the observation of the common areas of UTS Housing cleared an interesting path. While the kitchen facilities both in studios and the common areas are pretty good, the experience which came living at UTS Housing showed that an awful amount of students tend to eat outside. Further, it could be seen, that occurring leftovers are most likely chucked in the bin, rather than storing them or sharing them with other students. Also in the ongoing design process observation turned out to be a key research method for ideating and evaluating.
For me, the most useful research method undertaken was auditing and mapping visually how the waste system works at UTS Housing. Therefore the centre of the audit was “waste”, while around it every aspect which contributes to waste in any way was considered. This led from the people and the community with different values, attitudes and backgrounds, over the infrastructure and the areas provided, to the point of acquisition of the food and the disposal. The biggest outcome of this mapping was, that we could use this audit both for generating and evaluating our ideas from different starting points and literally see, what effect on the system it could possibly have.
Surveying and visual analysis
As we were focused on UTS Housing Yura in the beginning, once having a specific idea we considered surveying combined with visual analysis as a research method to go with. Therefore people over the different housing have been surveyed with four short questions about how they deal with organic waste and their attitude of eating. Also, we were able to have a look at urbanest to see if the circumstances are similar in other student accommodations besides UTS Housing. By using these research methods we were corroborated by the value of our idea and it helped us specifying our final outcome of the design project.
As the idea got more and more specific, we were able to have a look at different approaches which have been undertaken within the same field we were in. Therefore we had a look at other housings from different universities and in different countries, different waste management systems in other organisations than UTS, and spread the research over to food sharing and food waste preventing platforms in general. It turned out that there are different approaches with varying success and showed us the urgency of the need for solutions in this area.
Down the road, the research part of this design project confirmed my opinion of the importance of research for me. Still, it was a different perspective within this class, because it was my first experience having every freedom of a university project you could possibly have. As everyone, I have seen a lot of (university) projects plus I have seen the work area through my six-month internship in Munich, and I have to say in its own way this project was unique. Without focusing on research especially in the beginning, the project and therefore our brief would have gone nowhere.
IDEO Labs 2014, Dan Perkel, Digital Tools for Design Research: 16 new ways to improve human-centred design, viewed 10 June 2017, <https://labs.ideo.com/2014/09/19/digital-tools-for-design-research/>
adaptive path 2013, Adaptive paths guide to experience mapping, viewed, 10 June 2017 <http://adaptivepath.org/ideas/our-guide-to-experience-mapping/>
User Testing Blog, Spencer Lanoue, IDEOs 6 Step Human-Centered Design Process: How to Make Things People Want, viewed 14 June 2017, <https://www.usertesting.com/blog/2015/07/09/how-ideo-uses-customer-insights-to-design-innovative-products-users-love/>