So what is this design research that all designers are talking about? And all marketers confuse with their “marketing research”?
Let’s start by explaining how a design consultancy works with clients. Most often clients approach design consultancies to either create a new product/service, or upgrade the existing one. But in most of the cases the client has a misconception that the designers already know what they will design once we start working on the project.
Actually, what is not commonly known (unless you have designers around, or you worked with a consultancy before) is that the research that the designer conduct is what gives them the answer for what they should design and where the real need is.
So really what is design research?
Today design has become a category beyond categories. The word “design”, as generic as it is, encapsulates many definitions. Graphic design, User experience design, Industrial design, Food design etc.
All those disciplines tackle problems in different scales and through different media.
But in most of these cases the project starts with the famous “design research”. If we are talking about design as a way of thinking, and design as a tool to solve problems, we can say that to solve the real problem, we first have to define and reframe the problem, and then use the design process to create solutions to the right problems. Design research is not remotely scientific. There are many different techniques and approaches to conduct a design research. Most commonly designers start by empathizing with the user, which allows them to understand the user in a deeper form. From that point on designers can take different approaches, either by interviewing or conducting ethnographic research (which can take days even months) to shadow the user in their natural habitat.
Design research vs. marketing research
Design research is very different than marketing research. Design research relies on understanding the end user by learning about people’s behaviour, analysing their culture, and defining the context. We believe in the power of design research, because often people don’t do what they say they do. Observing them in their natural habitat allows us to define and reframe the real issues.
As we can understand from the success of many corporates that work with design consultancies (e.g P&G) design has power; but in order to create the power, we have to understand the people we are designing for, that is the reason why design research doesn’t rely on statistics, it relies on observations.
Another point that differs marketing research from design research is actually when the research is being conducted.
Marketers often conduct their research after the product has been created. They test the product on users, they make tons of survey to understand whether the user likes the product or not. They collect data from big companies to understand how much they sell and where they should sell. At this point marketing research becomes kind of the tool to apply the art of selling. In contradiction to this, design research has to be conducted way before the product is being created; it is actually the first step to question the designer why they should even create this new product.
The moment we understand that we don’t know what we don’t know, designers start to research. Research allows the designers to build the bridge of empathy, understand their end user and design accordingly. For us designers, Design is the act of discovering something that we want to be better, and then the activity of making it better. But in the process of seeing what we want to make better, we have to dig deeper in order to generate the right question to ask. Sometimes the real problem is not visible at first sight. Listening to what people don’t say and don’t do, understanding how one feels and acts, creating the bridge of empathy are used to drive insights from research.
Design can exist without “research”. But if we don’t study the world, we can’t create the right solutions to the right problems. If our aim is to design for people, and not for designers, design research is the most essential part of our jobs.
Image source: http://www.fergusbisset.com/2009/10/04/designing-design-research-and-generating-momentum/