The design process can be exciting, hands on and at times a lot of fun as you are creating and innovating something new. Design is traditionally seen as a problem solving process with the users’ need in mind. Creative process can be complex and messy. Unlike other disciplines Design can be seen as ‘non-scientific’. Research within design is often overlooked or sometimes seen as dull theoretical process. Below are some thoughts to show that research can be more than theory and can take different forms.
Risk of assumption: Last thing you want to do is to make wild guesses at what people want and need. Research will help you replace assumptions with design insights. Research will provide the basis for decision making. This will help you to confidently present - what the challenges are? and how to address them?
Research is iterative: You must have heard the phrase ’Design is an iterative process’ many times, similarly research is also an iterative process’. As the double diamond process indicates, research does not stop after phase 1 i.e. Discover. You will find yourself going back to research phase even at the final stage of design. Esp. at the final stage you will know exactly what you are looking for in research. You need evidence to differentiate fiction and fact.
Rationalisation and Rigor: Research helps you to rationalize your decision-making process and it also gives rigor to the approaches you choose to use. No matter what design methodology you chose, methods you use to engage with users and test you products and even details such as what questions you chose to ask - all of the decisions can be backed up using research. How have other done this? Have they done this right? How can I adapt this?
Context is key: You would have heard the term ‘context’ across a lot of modules. Whether you are designing a chair or an app, it is important to understand the context in which it is designed. If you understand the context you can design the product in a better way. Research will help you think about all possible context, if not you will end us designing from a distance.
Understanding behaviour through research: Design has and always will be cross-disciplinary and behavioral science is fundamental to design. As a designer we strive to understand user behavior. Looking for patterns and practices are key in making the designs effective and intuitive. However, at times we should also think beyond the user – things like systems behavior, social, technical, environmental, political and economical as well.
Understanding and analysing culture: sometimes called observation or (design) Ethnography. It is about understanding users’ activities, environment and culture. This is a great way to build up an empathic understanding of the users. Asking simple questions about obvious things can lead to unexpected answers and rich insights. A designer can reflect on these insights and use them to influence certain nuances in their designs.
Setting Focus: Very rarely you will be given a well-defined brief. Open-ended briefs are difficult to crack, project direction can look unclear if you don’t know what the challenges are. Ill-defined problems lead to poor solutions. Research will help you to provide a nuanced and hitherto understanding of the problem. Research has its limitations, it is not going to provide cold hard solutions, however it will provide plausible ideas.
Multidisciplinary teams: as a designer you will find yourself working in groups with people from different backgrounds. Designers have the potential to act as a bridge among disciplines and prompt meaningful discourse. Using the right ‘language’ and ‘terminologies’ matter. Research will help you to identify them.
Presenting research: there is no doubt you will have a variety of insights from research collected through various methods. It is now time to present it! This can take different formats. Most common way to present your research findings is a report. However, if you are working on a tight deadline then presentations are good to get your findings to the team. Information visualisation is your friend when it comes to presenting complex information.
Research can be fun: Research in design takes different forms. It doesn’t always have to theoretical (and there is nothing wrong with theoretical research). Research can be creative. There are a lot of open source toolkits available these days that will help you to do your research creatively.
Design process certainly can exist without research. But if we do not attempt to comprehend the world around us, then we do not know what we are designing and how we are designing and sometimes who we are designing it for.