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Design Research Methodology: Overview and Application

Let’s start from the definition: what is design research?

Design research is becoming increasingly important in business as industries move toward developing high-quality customer experiences. How can companies create valuable customer-centric products and services and provide value that improves their knowledge and lives?

Design research is not what a product looks like. It is an exploratory approach that uses curiosity to look at customers and create a broad understanding of their views.

Ideally, design research is conducted early in any product conversation, as the research results directly impact your product line’s sales strategy and development cycle.

Design research differs from marketing research.

While market research examines what products and services can be marketed, in contrast, design research examines why your target market is behaving and why they might value a solution that will help improve their interaction and experience.

The research aims to understand the user well, what your users need, why people behave the way they do, and what the optimal interaction is. This does not use biases or assumptions that a business may have about the needs of its target markets but relies on the target market to show the company the complete picture of what areas it should focus on.

Another critical difference between marketing design and design research is the ROI model.

The return from market research is information that improves company decisions to increase revenues and purchases. Returns can be primary or secondary in nature, usually large data sets with quantitative results and based on numerical financial measures that can be easily compared.

Design studies provide information on the values held by target markets, indicating how products and services will be perceived and used. The findings are often primary research, usually qualitative contextual information that requires interpretation and answers the “why” behind what the target markets believe and empathize with.

Why should you do design research?

The design research phase of any product development can be time-consuming, but it is a crucial step that should not be overlooked. The results from this process help a business gain a number of strategic benefits:

A true understanding of your customers’ values

Your business exists to serve your customers and give them what they want in a way that promotes your brand and gets them to make repeat purchases. If your products and services don’t appeal to your target markets or don’t know where to start, look at what your customers need.

The best products make life easier, perform essential functions, and achieve the desired results. Suppose you don’t understand your customers on a value level and don’t know what their problems are. 

What are the best design research methods?

To answer basic questions about who your customers are, their needs, and how they interact with the world, let’s look at some design research methodologies.

Primary research

Primary research will be your best buddy when it comes to design research. 

Primary research is a type of study that gives first-hand facts and information from your target market.

 Typical primary research methods are individual surveys, focus groups, and interviews.

Some key questions to help you understand your customer’s needs for a particular topic include:

  • What problems do you face with [scenario]?
  • Why did you choose these specific problems?
  • What is the most critical issue on the list?
  • What do you think would help solve them?
  • How would solving [the script] help you?
  • Why is it essential that [the scenario] be fixed?

Secondary research

Secondary research helps us understand information and opinions from different periods. This research uses second-hand sources of information, such as current statistics, articles, or expert feedback already cited.

For design studies, secondary research can give you the information you can’t get from primary research, such as historical data or unbiased opinions. A client may answer an interviewer one way and a colleague, or in a different setting another, so it’s helpful to get other sources of information that can provide deeper insights.

Examples of secondary resources include listening to conversations on social media channels and forums or viewing personal blogs of critical clients. Other scholarly work on the topic can also be classified as secondary research.

Should I use primary or secondary research?

Keep in mind that the overall goal is to understand your target customer.

We recommend doing both primary and secondary research to understand the current status of your clients that you can reach with primary research and get information about clients that you can’t come with secondary research.

In addition, secondary research can provide additional information that corroborates the primary research results, which can help with verification and understanding.

Other design research methodologies

There are other sub-styles of interview research that encompass both primary and secondary research methods:

Exploratory research

Exploratory research allows you to clarify a topic about which little is yet known. Experimental research is best for developing a business product where there is no specific question or area.

Because little is known up front, the research line can be pretty flexible, allowing you to delve into topics and return to a common theme.

The findings can be used to identify other topics for discussion, exciting areas you would like to explore further, and to draw conclusions from the results.

Evaluative research

Evaluative research examines what the client thinks about the scene after they have had a chance to evaluate the issues and problems. This could be a product review, a role-playing interaction with the customer, or asking about the customer’s reaction to the problem.

This type can be divided into two types of evaluation studies: Summative evaluation seeks to understand the results of the situation, whether it is an analysis of how it has affected financial performance or other aspects. Formative evaluation focuses on improving usability or interaction, whether evaluating how well the product has met needs or identifying areas that need updating.

How can you apply the results of the study? 

Your design research is about collecting data that you need to understand in order to create actionable insights then.

Data collection and processing

The next step in design research is to collect all the data from participants and bring all the comments and responses together in one place.

From here, you should begin data cleaning, eliminating errors, and properly formatting the data. 

Review the data, categorize it by category or topic, and add taxonomies or metadata fields to help you quickly sort the data.

Data interpretation

When the data is ready, you can begin the evaluation process to see what the data is saying and where it relates to each other.

You can group the data by similar views or origins. You can prioritize the responses that quickly impact or provide the most discovery.

Qualitative responses can be evaluated using sentiment analysis to see common words and see if they are positive or not. Another way is to group similar opinions together to create quantitative numerical data.

Generating perceptions

At this point, you can look at what the data is saying and examine its relevance to your business and interests. Does the information you have match what you currently believe? Where does it differ?

You may identify comparable causes for good actions among people of specific ages, giving you the confidence to reach out to that age group and establish links to their reasoning and forecast their future behavior. 

You may discover a whole area you’ve overlooked, but that should actually be the basis of your new product development cycle.

This means developing a plan to incorporate what you’ve learned into your company. This may mean having immediate conversations at the highest levels about the direction of product development and business goals based on your knowledge, incorporating what you have learned into product development cycles, so that customer needs are incorporated into possible solutions, or simply getting the right stakeholders together to decide how to move forward.

If your business can create a solution that meets the needs of your target audience and can solve their problem, you will start to succeed right away.

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