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With the focus of Agile Research on the application of learning, it was only a matter of time before we were asked what we can do to inform the work of visual designers, particularly those in the fields of brand identity, interactive design and advertising. What follows is our answer to the question: Why should I care about research as a designer?

For decades, market researchers and designers have operated at cross-purposes. They are two professions whose inherent values appear almost inevitably destined for collision. The discipline of market research has as its cornerstone an unshakable belief in the power of rational thought and verbal expression. Design disciplines, conversely, value novelty, inspiration and the magic of visual communications.

Agile design research must bring the two disciplines into better integration, drawing the strengths of both into the definition of creative solutions to specific strategic challenges.

Right Brain, meet Left Brain.

A common argument against employing market research for design evaluation is that it leads to milquetoast solutions and yields uninspired design. There is certainly plenty of evidence to support that claim. Customers can’t tell you what they want, it is said. And we don’t disagree. But that shouldn’t lead to the conclusion that market research isn’t a useful tool in the development of breakthrough design.

One just must use it properly.

Define the context

Market research is optimized to deliver insights into decision-making structure, usage patterns, customer expectations and user requirements. Good design starts with understanding how users are going to interact with it.

Use stimulating stimuli

Good research is a contact sport. The more you show, the better the discussion and the clearer the direction. Design research, similarly, is most effective when it employs a variety of creative concepts and thought-starters. The broader the range the better—particularly when your intent is to push boundaries.

Learn from others

Expertise and over-familiarity in a particular category can stifle creative thinking and unduly inhibit breakthrough ideas. Design inspiration often comes from peripheral – even unrelated – fields. Effective design research accommodates that, using examples and references from outside of the client category to drive meaningful discussion and ideation.

Think development, not testing

Research participants are better at identifying duds than picking winners. Use them for this, and iterate your way towards a better design. And remember…

Research is only an aid to judgment

Ignore customers at your own risk, but don’t allow them to be the sole voice dictating your design direction. They instinctively defer to the familiar. It ultimately falls to the designer and Agile researcher to determine how to incorporate customer feedback and when to challenge the status quo.

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