“Oh, Solve this problem!” says somebody and that’s how every new design process commences. The quick questions that follow this vehement urge are ‘How to start?’ ‘Who is facing this problem?’ ‘Is it really needed?’. A thousand thoughts seem to rush inside the head. But, where to begin?
The process would comprise of not just understanding how to resolve the problem but even why to resolve it. Thus, there are two aspects which come together on this task, Research and Design. While design will help in finding a solution, research will help find the right solution. There is a subtle hint here emphasizing on how a good research enhances the effectiveness at every stage of product development process viz. planning and design, development, implementation and evaluation.
‘The difference between design and research seems to be a question of new versus good. Design doesn’t have to be new, but it has to be good. Research doesn’t have to be good, but it has to be new.’ — Paul Graham
Designers are wired to experiment and create solutions. Research on the other hand, will help designer gather relevant data and sculpt a path to get towards an accurate solution. Research acts as a source to fuel new ideas by establishing a strong foothold of reasoning before fully diving into design. Research not only helps to build a good foundation to move further in the process, but allows a firm rationale at every juncture of decision making. Moreover, research provides a yardstick for design to measure against. It is therefore imperative that the process of how the research is conducted is as important as design itself.
Within a research framework, steps designers take for resolving a problem can change according to the suitability of individuals or groups. Research and design objectives remain the same.
The first criteria is to identify who screamed “Solve the problem!” : The User / A system
Identifying the user or the system that you are designing for, sets up the trigger for a very well directed thought process. This is what we call the ‘Target Audience’, people who are using the product or service. Thereon, every idea generated is in consideration of the goals and objectives of this user or that system.
‘What does the user / system do to arrive at this problem?’ : Behaviors
Understanding behaviors is a high-yielding process. It may be limited to human behavior or may extend to include systems behavior : social, technical, political and economic. As we start observing the functioning of how behaviors are affected by various factors, we may start getting better insights to resolve issues. Behavioral understanding allows you to empathize with the users; encouraging an approach wherein you create a better rapport with the needs of the end user and their pain points. It also provides some indication about the certain patterns and practices in user behavior.
Which place does this user come from? : Culture and beliefs
Our behaviors are deeply affected by our culture and hence behavior is essentially a by-product of cultural preferences and background. Culture is an important aspect when it comes to understanding design, because it basically defines human relationships, our choices, our routines, our opinions and beliefs. Designing with such ethnographic data in consideration, will affect the path the design solution will follow.
Where is the user going to use this? And how? : Context
Context will accommodate any type of setting within which the user is expected to use the product and the behavior activated within this environment. Identifying the occurrence of confusion and irritation, points of key decisions and what triggers those reactions is an important part of defining context. This is where a designer either experiences the actions by ‘walking a mile’ in the shoes of the user or by making observations by being a part of the environment.
What does the user need? And what does the user NOT require? : Focus
Out of all the criteria, focus is of prime importance, because this is where you are trying to define the needs of the user. Having focus on the user is as good as an established principle in design from which most of the good design practices can be derived and around which most design issues center.
It is research which lets the designer know about the users, behaviors, cultures, beliefs, contexts and gives a focus to the design.
The customer is always right in the sense that the measure of good design is how well it works for the user. — Paul Graham
Having said that, knowing what not to do is far more important. In the initial stages of research there will always be a larger amount of data collected on the basis of user behaviors and preferences, and there is likely to be some vagueness in the outcome. Eventually, as you begin to organize and categorize this data by chopping off the unnecessary information, more detailed and well thought flow of information will be revealed, which will enable a focus. Hence, elimination of unnecessary data and features will refine the way you design.
Design Research comprises of the aforementioned aspects and based on individual requirements these aspects will change their meaning to suit the kind of research one is undertaking, both qualitative and quantitative.The essence of it all remains unchanged and will essentially stay common through any research conducted. Designing and planning methodically the course of action and defining key concepts within research assures the success of any research conducted. The research does not provide a definite solution at the end of the tunnel, but it will generate good and feasible possibilities. On the other hand, faulty research techniques and hasty inferences may lead to faulty design.