When a company has an existing product or service, it typically has research techniques and methodologies to gather and analyze information to start planning for future improvements. Collecting data and analyzing existing users through market research tools and surveys, as well as focus groups, will yield informative data to improve existing designs.
However, if you are starting a new product or service that no one has seen before or had the opportunity to use, what methods can you use in this situation?
There is not always something to test and people may not have accurate opinions about a product they have never seen or used. Jane Fulton Suri, Chief Creative Officer at IDEO, suggests in her article about design research, that innovation requires a new approach to tackle the unknowns. Design research techniques can help with future products and service insights. She explains that innovation is mostly open-ended in its requirements and can be very subjective in nature. She suggests that what is required is Design Research, as opposed to more traditional research techniques that still use the analysis of objective evidence. Design research is enhanced with extensive exploration due to the lack of applicable data. These include:
- Synthesizing of evidence
- Exploration of analogies and extreme cases
- Recognition of emergent patterns
- Empathetic connection to people’s motivations and behavior
- Intuitive interpretation of information with impressions from multiple sources
These considerations are used to expose patterns with people’s behavior and experiences as well as exploring reactions and responses. This research is to extend our knowledge and understanding of the user base and allows the researcher direct information to probe and prototype against, likely giving give key insight on unknowns through hypothesis and experimentation.
The value of Design Research comes from inspiring our imaginations and informing our intuitions. Successful design research, as Jane suggests, requires both a “Cultural transformation in organizations” and “Perpetuation of those transformations” to allow innovation to survive and grow. Design research requires the individual to get out of the office, be where the customer is and see what they see. It is important to get first-hand experience of the consumer base. Design research can be rich and delivers not only facts, but insights into those facts and reasons behind them. She goes on to emphasize that people have needs, motivations, habits and perceptions that all must be taken into account during new product and service design thinking. Good research should uncover these nuances and allow the experimenter to gauge their ideas against this knowledge.
There are three different approaches to design research (that our designers use at IdentityMine) that can address open questions with regards to innovation and how they can be performed and implemented.
Generative Design Research
This is an empathetic exercise; it is descriptive and factual but also speculative and interpretive. We are looking for emergent patterns, challenges and opportunities that can be addressed with innovation and design thinking. It can be performed by shadowing specific people and observing their behaviors, even having people keep diaries of moods and significant events. It is interactive and contextual and not based on self-report or opinions. There is also room for more traditional market research and trend information searching and the aim is to create a framework for thinking about the domain for innovation.
Learning feedback loops are useful here; user input and consumer insight gained from using sketches tell stories. Producing videos and prototypes can be very valuable to help demonstrate the issues and try potential solutions. The aim is to tangibly represent an idea by probing and asking questions and this gives a chance to address questions and uncertainty as it occurs. It allows you to check people’s reactions and refine assumptions. Collaborative discovery and creation work well in this research method, using prototyping techniques such as theater (bodystorming) and paper prototyping.
How confidently can we predict success? By looking ahead to estimate the potential of an idea and the future opportunities that may be available. This requires more of a business mindset, and is a good skill to acquire, especially for designers. In this approach, we look for potential markets and determining viability of ideas. Running live experiments and having labs that run experiments online is good practice.
After implementing these design research techniques, one should have a solid base of knowledge to work from. Remember, these are not the only ways to gain insight for design research, but are meant to get the ball rolling.
For a deeper look inside the mind of our IdentityMine’s Associate Creative Director, visit Stuart Mayhew’s blog.