Design Research

19 May, 2022

“Good design doesn't stem from intuition, talent, or luck (although I'll take a smidgen of each). It comes from research and understanding”.
- Author: Anonymous

Research is considered to be the foundation and one of the key steps in the design process. It consumes a significant amount of time to clarify the task further and lay down the needs and scope of the project. Design research differs significantly from the conventional research being conducted across other domains. Research dictates the success or failure of a project as one gathers a number of facts and figures which help in crystallizing the objectives of the project. These facts and figures are also churned into useful insights for achieving the set objectives.
Research is not a non-directional activity. It is a systematic approach to the solution of a chosen problem statement. It is neither a (mere) Google activity nor a surface-level exploration. It demands in-depth work, depending on the scope of the project, to create a user-centric design solution.

Types of Research
Research can be further classified into various types:

  • User Research

  • Market Research

  • Literature Research

Who are Users?
Among the various types of research, user research is considered to be of utmost importance when it comes to design. Failing to perform this properly may result in a loss of resources, as the design has witnessed a shift from functionally driven design to user experience design, where the user lies at the core of the entire process.
The design thinking process encourages designers to consider users and other stakeholders at each stage of design to enhance the user experience and usability by creating simple designs. To know your user is the toughest task. In a large number of cases, the users themselves are unaware of their needs and problems - they are simply driven by their past experiences and mental blocks, which are very difficult to overcome. To discover the latent needs of users and stakeholders, designers are required to make use of various tools which are proven to be helpful, especially in the research phase.

Tools for User Research
Observation and empathy are the tools which help designers to put themselves in their users’ shoes and reflect upon the problems, from a users’ perspective, without any bias or design influence. In order to conduct a systematic observation and empathy study, designers deploy various tools, which help in speeding up the design research and convert chunks of data into useful insights. The following tools are amongst the most popular design tools for user research:

  • User Persona - It is a fictional profile that represents the target audience. It is a kind of dashboard that reflects users’ personalities and their needs based on the research conducted.

  • Ethnography - It is also known as habitat study which aims to understand the users and their surroundings by observing and studying their day-to-day routine.

  • Empathy Map - It categories users’ behavior into four buckets - what they think, feel, see and hear, to dig out the pain points.

Similarly, there are a number of methods such as contextual inquiry, immersion study, etc., which are more or less the same, which focus on users and their surroundings to find out their needs to be taken care of through the design.

Market and Literature Survey
Research is not limited to the users but it explores the dynamics of the market where the trends and competitors are evaluated against the listed parameters to take inspiration, know gaps and tap unexplored areas.
Literature survey or prior art study widens the scope of novelty and helps designers to use relevant information from the previous research conducted. It is one of the important studies in writing design research papers to explore untapped areas and come out with new knowledge.

Designs are essentially meant to solve problems. And, to solve problems, it is essential to understand the people affected by it, the circumstances, and other relevant factors - in as much detail as possible. This is where the criticality of research design emerges, which is beautifully summed up by Frank Chimero - “People ignore designs that ignore the people”.

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