From Design

Design Research: impacting the human experience

Creating useful, usable, and craved products and services that respond to human needs is the basis of Design Research. Design Research is a process used by designers to better understand the underlying and sometimes hidden desires, needs, and challenges of end users. The main goal? To create an optimal user experience. It allows to understand complex human behavior and turn that into actionable insights that improve the design.

However - and despite its utility - Design Research is frequently overlooked and ignored since its definition, purpose, and role are not well understood by many companies. Most of the time, the information they gather is rudimentary, compromising the data value and preventing the design research process from being thoughtfully applied. This blog post will discuss what Design Research is, its top benefits, and how we do it at Imaginary Cloud.

Table of contents

What is Design Research?
The Benefits of Design Research
    ➤  Market Research vs Design Research
    ➤  Design Research steps
    ➤  Design Research methods
Our Product Desing Research Phase
    ➤  Briefing
    ➤  User Research
    ➤  Design Benchmark
Conclusion

What is Design Research?

Design Research consists of the primary research into the design process, aiming to support products or services' strategic design and development. It's a user-centered approach that helps answer questions like "Who are your users?", "What problems are they facing?" and "How are they going to use this product/service?". Considering qualitative and quantitative research, the purpose is to create a great design based on users' motivations, unmet needs, and how they will use and experience certain products or services.

Market Research vs Design Research

Design Research can often be confused with Market Research and, although they have complementary approaches, they differ in terms of scope, data, and end results. On the one hand, Market Research focuses on generating value (often financial) for organizations that will lead to purchases and sales of products/services. On the other hand, Design Research focuses on how users will use and experience the products/services and how their needs can be satisfied. This way, companies can improve their customers' lives and build loyalty and engagement for their products and services.

Take a look at the table below and see the main differences between these two different approaches:

Differences Market Research Design Research

Main Goal

Create value (ofter financial) for organizations

Create value (often utility) for the end user

Process

Collect theoretical data to be analytically processed

Collect human experiences and artifacts to be synthetically processed

Tools

Logic

Empathy

Approach

Follows a quantitative approach, analyzing large data sets to identify business insights, segments, trends, and demographics

Follows a qualitative approach, analyzing customer behavior and interactions.

Allows to

Make an evidence-based decision, considering identified insights

Create solutions that meets identified requisites

Design Research Steps

A great Design Research must encompass some steps. Gathering the data is not enough to complete the process: it's necessary to analyze it at some specific levels to clarify complex human needs, behaviors, and perspectives. This includes:

  • Data Processing: to support future decisions, it is needed to filter the data to acquire more relevancy, anonymize outputs to ensure privacy, tag artifacts with metadata, and categorize data using appropriate taxonomies.

  • Get Meaningful Data: it's essential to evaluate and connect the collected data insights. The main goal is to dissect information that can identify the main critical points.

  • Transform Data into Insights: Knowing what users do and how they deal with certain products or services allows companies to hypothesize what should be developed and how their user experience can be improved.

  • Test insights regarding best practices: After having all the insights gathered, it's important to analyze how they can cope with the existing industry patterns and market's best practices. The goal is to understand if they are suitable for the audience they are targeted for.

  • Transform insights into useful setups: Once the insights are validated, it's time to create the first design concepts to solve the encountered issues. This is made based on the information gathered and treated previously throughout the process.

Design Research Methods

Although there are many ways to collect data, these are the three most common Design Research methods:

  • Primary: it means going directly to the source (users) to ask questions and gather exploratory and specific information. Some examples of this technique are focus groups, usability sessions, surveys, and interviews.

  • Secondary: in this method, designers use existing data (books, articles, or the internet) to validate or support existing research. This way, it is possible to make evidence-based decisions and provide additional insights to complement primary research.

  • Evaluative: this is the method where usability and interaction are evaluated to solve a specific issue. The most common way to conduct this method is by having users testing products/services and listening to their feedback.

So, which one to pick? Deciding on which research method to use will always depend on what kind of product/service is being developed and for whom it will be targeted. Starting with Primary Research will certainly unlock many issues and bring new questions on what it will be needed to do next.

The Benefits of Design Research

By now, it's already known that Design Research it's not an easy task. It can be very consuming since it takes time, resources, and preparation. However, the results are worth it, and they bring several benefits to businesses. Here are some of the main benefits:

  • Evidence-based design: conducting design research allows designing based on facts and not on assumptions. Despite having a working knowledge of existing users, it's crucial to understand their pain points, what they are looking for in a product/service and how they would use it, in order to mitigate possible flaws.

  • Focus and prioritization: having the right users' data and information facilitates dealing with feature requests, client feedback, and schedule/budget constraints and helps focus on what it's more relevant. Finding potential issues during the research phase will reduce the risk of designing the wrong solution.

  • Empathy: Building deeper connections and relationships with clients gives great help on daily work and decisions. Having customers' constant feedback in mind will make them feel appreciated regarding their thoughts and opinions.

  • Customers' happiness: Creating a design from scratch makes it easier to provide a seamless user experience. Fixing simple problems can prevent bigger issues later in the process that could lead to clients' frustration.

Our Product Design Research phase

Due to many years of experience, our expert designers developed a unique and distinct method - our Product Design Process - a user-centered process for digital products that follows a multidisciplinary approach. The PDP focuses on consistently providing exceptional UX/UI Design, improving user experience, enhancing conversions, and growing businesses' value while balancing costs and benefits on a rapid market launch. We incorporated the best industry practices and techniques alongside field experience and valuable feedback to perfect the process.

We all know that behind a digital product's look & feel, there's way more than just bright and engaging user interfaces. In fact, it's vital to focus on the user's journey and overall usability. Once it's impossible to generate good ideas without understanding the problems to solve and what needs to be built, we start our process with the Research phase. This first step is the UX designer's responsibility. Its goal is to gather evidence that supports the decisions taken henceforth, ensuring none is made based on vague assumptions. This is the phase in which the main aspects of the business model and user needs are identified.

The Research phase is composed of three steps: Briefing, User Research and Design Benchmark. See below:

Briefing

The Briefing consists of a workshop with the team (usually one to four hours) to present the project's vision/goals and clarify all the necessary business requirements. The main goal is to ensure that the whole team works on the same page and shares all the relevant information to start the project. It's crucial to manage client expectations and design a great solution considering the type of product and its audience target, the maturity of the project's idea, the team members' profile, and even the communication style.

User Research

User Research consists of exploring the user profiles considering the product stakeholders. Defining personas (demographic information and user context) and identifying motivations will be vital for knowing users' goals and needs when using the product. This very important step will guarantee the product's usefulness and effectiveness from the users' point of view, assuring it is successful in the most fundamental dimensions of usability.

User Research

Design Benchmark

Design Benchmark consists of researching the landscape of similar and complementary products in the market. Analyzing design patterns and technologies used in the industry and on similar activities allows positioning the product in this ecosystem. The main goal is to leverage the knowledge and skills of existing players while assuring feature/design differentiation.

Design Benchmark

Conclusion

Design Research is much more than having a product with a great look & feel. It's about understanding people and getting to know how they experience the world, meeting their stories, motivations, and needs. In its essence, Design Research is the art of observing what users say and do to perceive what they think and feel. No matter how much data one gathered in the past or how well a company thinks to know their customers, there is always something new to discover about an audience. Allowing users to be the experts makes it possible to uncover valuable opportunities that could satisfy their needs - without even looking for them.

The greater bonus of Design Research? The surprising findings, new perspectives, and rewarding insights reduce the risk of designing the wrong solution and get clients frustrated. Instead, it creates room for innovative user-centered solutions.At Imaginary Cloud, we follow a three-step Research phase. We start with Briefing, a workshop with the team to present the project's vision and goals and the business requirements. Next, we conduct User Research, defining and identifying users' motivations for using the product. Finally, we execute a Design Benchmark to leverage the knowledge and skills of existing players and, this way, assure the product's differentiation.

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