One request that we get from clients is to share a questionnaire which can be filled up to extract consumer insights through design research. Now I have tried convincing them that design research cannot be limited to a set of few questions. We prepare a guideline for the conversation that we would like to have with the users. We pick up the key aspects that will influence the design from there and work on it accordingly. We like to take the liberty of designing the product not only on the basis of what consumer tells us through those conversations, but also on the basis of how we understand the needs of the consumers.
Take Steve Jobs for example. He never believed in research. He wanted to be able to have the vision to decide what will be best for the consumers. Of course this approach is quite godly and can only be adopted by visionaries like him who are blessed with a strong stomach muscles to take both success and failure in the same stride.
Us lesser mortals, who are still on earth, have clients to answer. Clients who have vulnerable guts and want to play safe. Also since most of them report up to a few levels of hierarchies, their decisions are based on their respective boss’ anticipated reaction.
And we as designers are at the receiving end because we never get a chance to choose our projects and clients. While we try our best at design evangelism, we have to give up soon under the pressure of timelines. So, there goes our formal questionnaire for design research, which we eventually fold multiple times until it looks like a grubby paper with dog ears and junk in our pockets.
Design research is not a fixed process, instead it is more like reading a book and drawing your own interpretations. Consumers have aspirations of what is visible to them at their neighbor’s house or in the TV ads or at the bazaar. They cannot articulate their real needs, but they like to converse. Designers have an uncanny eye to observe that and converse with them. So, design research is best done through conversation and observation. They go hand in hand. Observation instigates conversation and conversation in turn triggers observation. A designer has to vacillate between the two. There is no set rule or order for this combo. One has to customize and improvise as per the need. The derivation out of this process is based on the researcher’s (here the designer) agility and creativity of mind. A small sample size is a good indicator and extrapolation in both directions is a logical outcome of an intuitive mind.
To put it in a linear equation: Observation + Conversation = Derivation ~(leading to )~Extrapolation
This will be a good recipe to make a tasty cake. But where will the icing come from? Hmm…inspiration! So, getting inspired is the key in creating perceptions and experiences.
Design research can further be converted into this mathematical equation:
Integration (conversation + observation + extrapolation + inspiration) = differentiation (perception + looks + experiences) = aspiration
This is the simplified form of design research. Jargon's like ‘ethnography, psychometric, insights, etc.’ are only used consciously to sound esoteric. Like any other science, design research is simple and tough at the same time. If you understand it fundamentally, it’s a walk.
More than the clients, designers need to have a better grasp of it.