What is design research? It is generally refer to the upfront contextual inquiry work that designers perform before they start ideation. Sometimes it involves some light ethnographic work and some interviews, but it is primarily not structured as comprehensive or rigor. Design research emerged only in the late 60’s with the goal to improve see how consumers use the product and looking way to improve the effectiveness of a product. Pretty much a human factor investigation, but It is now widely practices but facing a few serious challenges.
The emergence of transdisciplinary design is changing what skills are needed for those who undertake research design. It goes beyond improving a physical product. Building in the voice of customer into the design research process, either directly or indirectly, is a key factor in the design process. Generally the ability to collect data is not in essence the critical activity, it is the ability to decode visual and non-visual data and translate emergent issues into concrete insights that are actionable.
The effectiveness of design research can be characterized by the research teams ability to translate identified functional and emotional characteristics into unique innovation drivers. Ineffective design research activities are often characterized by the presence of assumptive decision-making, lack of immersion into the consumer's world and undifferentiated innovation drivers. Design research is less known than traditional market research among marketers and often misuse as a market research tool rather a product development or innovation tool.
Many organizations are only beginning to use design research to its full benefits. Many sees it as unnecessary cost simply because the people who perform it did not do it justice. The reasons that many of the output I came are often useless and unactionable. There are many reasons for this. First, most designers are trained to observe the insights for the purpose of applying them directly to their work, but poorly trained to codify these insights and lack the writing and analytical skills to make sense of what they see. And the second one is this observation research and individual contact is very consuming, particularly when you need to see them performing non-daily routines. Turning useful data input into the creative process is a critical skill. it is an “intuitive learning process”, during which ideas ‘evolve’ or ‘mature’ and lead to improvement of the previous idea.
Design research in Idea Couture is not just an observation exercise; it is often a participatory exercise. I can’t talk more to our proprietary methodologies, but they are a lot more than just send in two designers to learn about how consumer uses a product. It is not productive to do that. Cross-disciplinary teams, often considering issues from multiple perspectives, from anthropological to human factors and brand influences, perform design research at Idea Couture. Research design for us is the starting point of reflective collaboration, getting D-School and B-School collaborating to solve wicked problems. It is fun. Designers often like the idea of involving uses early and generally hate focus groups. Then unfocus groups is hard to manage and they have concerns whether the discussions will be side tracked. Involving users is always a good idea particularly you need to gain a deeper understanding of cultural issues such as lifestyles and wider issues beyond functional details. This is why you need anthropologists.
It is interesting to see that the contextual inquiry hype has been migrating toward the participatory/designer led corner of the design research space the last few years as design-led methods such as visioning and storyboarding have been added to the contextual inquiries. A lot of designers have difficulties of having a unfocus group evaluation for a product idea designed by the designer himself/herself who moderates, as the personal aspects involved often cause some uncomfortable situation. We can see why but that could be the case.