For those who don’t know — which may well be you, as you’re reading this article — Design Research is a field of research focussed on learning about the people we’re designing for. It aims to expose patterns of behaviour, through iterative hypothesis and experimentation. If you’re a product designer, UX designer, Unicorn, Screen Jedi, or really any type of designer, here’s why it should be part of your process.
You are not your guest.
If you’re a designer, you probably want to solve problems. Sometimes for yourself. But mostly for the users of some other businesses. Whoever happens to be paying you this month. Right? Hmm.
When did customers become “users”?
This language degrades people to lifeless statistics. When you walk into Disneyland, do they think of you as a user? Absolutely not. You are their esteemed guest.
When you walk into your favourite clothing store, are you a user? No, you are a treasured customer.
Once you realise the people engaging with your product are just that — people — you’ll also realise they are individuals. They think, act, and feel in unique ways.
To design for someone else, you should aspire to get inside their head.
Understand their deepest (darkest) desires.
You’re won’t get far sitting behind your [insert design tool of choice] artboard adjusting drop shadow opacities.
Assumption is the mother of all f*** ups
You know this old saying. It’s true. Yet every day you make wild guesses at what people want and need. It’s time you started replacing assumption with insight.
Meg Ryan was able to hear the thoughts of women in the mediocre-hit comedy What Women Want. You can’t do that*. So, instead, you’re going to have to do some research.
It’s one of the best ways to figure out how to help your guests.
Research provides a basis for decision making. It allows you to walk into your stakeholder design presentation and say:
“we observed this huge problem, and we’ve got a way to fix it.
Start changing the nature of your conversations from fiction to fact. From “I think” to “I observed”.
Exploration of the irrational
Human behaviour is irrational. Don’t believe me? Ask Dan Ariely. He wrote a whole book about it.
Data will tell you a lot about what people do. But it won’t tell you why they do it. You have to ask the people themselves. Watch, listen, study, learn. Dig deep. Then a little bit deeper still.
Exploring irrational behaviour is hard to do through simple research techniques like market research. It demands introspection. Or insightful observation and analysis. People often fail to explain their own irrationality. You have to observe it first hand for yourself and share what you see with the world.
There is nothing like the Ah-ha! moment of observing irrational humans attempt to do rational things. Once you get into it, you’ll never want to stop.
It’s not always easy, but it’s rewarding.
So stop throwing sloppy ideas at the wall. Start studying real behaviour. Start design something that really sticks with your guests.