How to Conduct Design Research?

The Secret of the Cold-Minded Kensei

For many of us, product design is just like mochi packaging: the most "delicious" (i.e., the functionality) is inside. However, in some cases, the design determines the leading position of the product in the competition with analogs, since this is directly related to the quality of the user experience. The great Kensei Daisuke (which means "mate" in Japanese), who dedicated his life to fighting the masterminds of the Big Ugly Website creators, will tell you below the basics of design research in detail.


The Big Ugly Website
The Big Ugly Website

Daisuke's Sword Is Coming Out of Scabbards: Design Research VS Marketing Research

As you may know, design research is a global process that helps to identify the needs and desires of potential users - both hidden and those they honestly admit to. In order to understand them, Daisuke tried to look at the product "through the eyes of the users" with empathy: to feel their environment, their problems, and the peculiarities of personal experience.


But, it is not easy even for a seasoned warrior to appear in several roles at once. For these purposes, the warriors can act like Daisuke and use СJM (customer journey map) by Flowmapp, a perfect tool for the customer's experience visualization.


Сustomer journey map tool by FlowMapp
Сustomer journey map tool by FlowMapp


By the way, new warriors often compare design research with marketing research. These processes, although similar, still have a fundamental difference from each other. In particular, the design research is NOT limited to finding a solution to a fixed list of target audience problems, created taking into account the achievement of the company's financial goals.


Instead, it is aimed at increasing the loyalty and satisfaction of the target audience (not at attracting it). Thus, design research, as opposed to marketing research, is carried out at the later stages of product development - when you already know who your target audience is and what features will be present in the future product.


That is why warriors who aspire to the title of Kensei should talk to the common people and find out their personal stories related to the experience of using existing analog products. It is important to identify both negative and positive aspects of usability. The latter will help to "entice" fans of the product they are satisfied with.

Daisuke's Sword Is Cutting the Sheet: The Role of Design Research in the Epic Battle of Metal and Paper

To understand how important design research is, let's take a look at the history of paper clip design. Did you know that this item appeared only about 100 years ago? Before paper clips were invented, clerks bound papers with ribbons or stitched them with thread. This was very inconvenient for those of them who needed to take out a single document from this bundle. Therefore, in the middle of the 19th century, people began to fasten sheets of paper with ordinary tailor's pins. But, unfortunately, they tore and spoiled the paper.


Photo by Tamanna Rumee
Photo by Tamanna Rumee


The rapid development of economic sectors in the 19th century led to the emergence of bureaucratic institutions. Due to the fact that in 1887  Arthur Latch and his cousin Telford C. Batchelor invented wire rope, this solution found its place in the office.


The idea to bend the wire rope several times and to fasten a couple of sheets of paper came to several people at once. But only one person became the official inventor of the paper clip - this is the Norwegian mathematician Johan Vaaler. In 1901 he received a patent for his invention. It was very similar to a modern paper clip, differing from it only in the number of knees. However, no matter how good the invented paper clip was, it also had drawbacks.


That clip crumpled the paper, squeezing it over a small area. It also broke very quickly. The first drawback was eliminated by inventing the new bending pattern to distribute the load on the sheet of paper over a larger area. And to ensure the durability of the paper clip, the developer equipped it with bows at the ends. Over time, plastic, chrome-plated, colored vinyl-coated, round, triangular, and square paper clips have become available.


What can we see as a result? The target audience there was clearly defined - these are ordinary office workers. Therefore, marketing research based on ready-made user data would not have helped to achieve the desired results - preserving the integrity of the paper sheet and the binding tool itself - just because there was no optimal solution to these problems at that moment.


Instead, in the case of design research, data from the target audience is collected to identify the gaps in the user experience with the product analogs, as well as the wishes for its optimization. Actually, as it happened with a paper clip.

Daisuke's Sword Is Returning to Scabbards: Final Thoughts about Design Research

As you can see, the design research is primarily about empathy for the target audience. The better you hear her needs, the easier it will be for you to transform their product features that make their lives easier. But if you are - like Kensei Daisuke - a cold-blooded warrior with a clear mind, to free yourself from unnecessary emotions and feelings, just use customer journey maps to create at once several user portraits for checking their typical behavior.

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