What is Design Research?
Design Research is based on qualitative and empirical research methods borrowed from social sciences (especially ethnography) and developed by designers to enhance the design process. In general, we follow two globally established design processes: the Double Diamond from the Design Council in the United Kingdom, and the Human Centered Design process from IDEO. Further below, you may find various research methods and tools that we usually apply in our projects and teach in our workshops.
Demographics & Psychographics
Demographics refers to the statistical study of individuals within a population or set by taking into account basic data about each one. This data includes age, gender, nationality, origin, location, family status, education, profession and income.
Psychographics relate to more qualitative and personal data such as interests, hobbies, social values/cultural/political values, religious beliefs, personality traits, lifestyles, habits, and general behaviors.
Methods & Tools
The Double Diamond
Design Council UK
The double diamond diagram was developed through in-house research at the Design Council in 2005 as a simple graphical way of describing the design process. Divided into four distinct phases, Discover, Define, Develop and Deliver, it maps the divergent and convergent stages of the design process, showing how designers work with organizations to explore the challenges they face and work towards tangible definitions and solutions.
Human Centered Design
Human-centered design is a process that has been used for decades to create new solutions to design challenges. The process helps designers hear the needs of the people and communities they’re designing for, create innovative approaches to meet these needs, and deliver solutions that work in specific cultural and economic contexts. Centered in optimism and embracing constraints and complexity, the HCD process helps users ask the right questions. Ultimately, it can increase the speed and effectiveness of implementing solutions that have an impact on the lives of the people these solutions were designed for.
For a truly systematic and well thought-out design process, the benefits of all involved stakeholders must be taken into account. Stakeholders are business managers, developers, marketers, visual designers, boards of directors and everybody with a vested interest in the success (or failure) of the project.
By recognizing all the potential stakeholders and defining their interests and benefits, one can ensure the success of the project by setting the criteria for all those directly or indirectly involved.
Empathy maps are diagrams that determine the characteristics, pains, gains, thoughts and emotions of the personas who are most important for the development of an idea or project.
Its main purpose is to put the designer in the mindset of the user in order to empathize with them and define how the solution would help solve their problems.
User Groups & Personas
The psychographics of a certain group of people, who are the potential end users of the product or service being designed, is obtained through primary research such as surveys and interviews. These 'user groups' are also known as target audience in marketing and advertising.
To represent a user group, designers often create personas which are fictional characters that encompass the most insightful criteria of the user group, by which an end user can easily identify.
Observation & Shadowing
A common form of ethnographic research, observational research is the systematic process of viewing and recording human behavior and cultural phenomena without questioning, communicating with, or interacting with the group being studied.
Shadowing is observational research which is recorded with the full awareness and consent of the group that is being studied. In this case, researchers are often going into their homes, following them around and living with them for a short period of time.
Cultural Probe Kits
Probe kits are a great method of research because they allow informants to express themselves in a multi-sensual manner in privacy since the kit is taken home for a week.
Usually probe kits include postcards, maps, voice recorders, cameras, diaries, stickers, and a variety of material that instigate different responses to the research topic. They also provide the researcher with a rich compilation of qualitative data.
As an example, refer to The Konfikit, a probe kit developed by the MENA Design Research Center.
Participatory workshops are a codesign method where the designers, users, stakeholders/clients work together to brainstorm, define the problem and test possible solutions by providing feedback from each side. In such a case, the designer becomes a facilitator helping all players reach the most optimal solution that suits all needs.
This method is beneficial for everyone and saves the designers a lot of time by condensing the iterative process into few steps; therefore, reaching the solution faster.
Role Play & Scenarios
By adopting Personas that have already been defined, designers often create specific scenarios with the context of the research topic. Then each person in the team becomes a persona and role plays within the scenario. This helps envision certain situations and potential problems that might result from the interaction with the designed service or product.
Role play and scenarios are often conducted in workshops with the stakeholders and user groups.
User or Customer Journeys
User or customer journeys are often mapped as oriented graphs that describe the journey of a person's interaction process with a service or product -from beginning to end. The journeys highlight touchpoints, which are certain decision spots that characterize and determine the course of the journey.
The interaction is described step by step as in a classical blueprint, with a strong focus on the flux of information and the physical devices involved. This method is useful to detect 'design problems' in the system.
Questionnaires & Surveys
Asking the right questions, with the appropriate choice of words, within a suitable order and in the proper context is crucial for optimum input. Researching a topic through written word that does not allow the interference of the designer can be an advantage as well as a disadvantage.
Therefore, understanding the direct and indirect relevance of the topic to the person's lifestyle, values, and interests is necessary for a constructive outcome.
Interviews may be conducted individually or in groups depending on the level of intimacy of the subject being researched. There are quite a few steps that have to be taken into account before commencing with an interview.
Most importantly, the interviewer must ensure the comfort and willingness of the interviewee. It is recommeded to film or sound record the interview if the interviewee allows it. It is also best to keep focused on the conversation and not take notes, this can result in distractions and missing important details such as body language.
Video & Photo Investigation
Information is not always verbal or written word, designers have realized that a large part of qualitative data comes from images and visuals. Photo and video investigations help the researcher discover certain expressions and behaviors that often go unspoken.
A good example of useful video footage is the observation of people's pathways in busy areas such as train stations during the day or night.
Usability testing employs a variety of techniques to measure a product's or service's ability to satisfy the needs of the end user in terms of functionality and accessibility while maintaining project requirements.
Usability testing is usually only possible after the prototyping phase of the initial solution proposed by the designer.
Data Visualization & Mapping
Designers are by nature visual learners and communicators. By taking complex data that have accumulated through research, they are able to show the insight and analysis of the research conducted in order to simplify it for themselves, the stakeholders as well as the users.
Data visualization -also known as infographics in some cases- is the general term for a variety of techniques, whereas mapping often refers to a time/space data set, e.g. mapping user journeys, geographical locations...etc.
Web analytics are a form of quantitative analysis that uses concrete metrics to track user behavior online, especially in social media. By looking into the users' geographic locations and viewing habits, a design researcher can get valuable insight.
This form of research is most commonly used to track down user groups' most viewed domain and times of viewing to ensure the appropriate placement of advertising.
Business Model Canvas
The Business Model Canvas is a globally used tool that assimilates all the main aspects that are needed to turn a project into a financially sustainable business or organization.
It is the blueprint that provides an overview to all team members with regards to key activities, partners, resources, channels, customer relations, value propositions, cost structures and revenue streams.
Value propositions include all the benefits that a user, customer, or audience receives from the products and services provided by the organization or business.
It is developed keeping in mind all the pains and gains that the target audience or persona is experiencing, and how the value offered to them by the company is alleviating their pains and bettering certain aspects of their lives.
Whether running a non-profit or a business, there are always other institutions with similar intentions, or competitors in the market. Product positioning is centered around the various criteria of how a product or service is perceived in relation to others within its vicinity.
The main benefits of this tool is to derive positioning strategies that will ensure the success of the product or service in relation to its competitors, product attributes and categories, as well as market segments.