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Technical practices

How and why we do design research

Design research is a critical measure in solving the real problem and creating the optimal user experience. It allows you to understand complex human behavior and turn that into actionable insights to improve your design.

What is design research?

Design research is a user-centered approach that focuses on the “why” behind user behavior and interaction and helps you answer questions like:

  • Who are our users?
  • What problems are they facing?
  • How are they going to use this product?

Why do design research?

  • It enables you to design based on facts and not assumptions.
  • It helps you with focus and prioritization.
  • It helps you foster more empathy for your customers.
  • It results in happier users.
  • It gives you authority for your decisions vis-à-vis our clients.

Three methods you should know

Understanding how people use your product is important. But understanding why they use it is more important. So how do we get inside users’ heads to truly understand their experience?

There are countless ways to collect data about your users. Whichever methods you choose, they fall into tree buckets:

  • Primary research
  • Secondary research
  • Evaluative design research

Primary research

Primary design research is when you (or your team) go directly to the source (the users of the product you are building) to ask questions and gather data. Examples of primary research are focus groups, usability sessions, surveys, and interviews.

In primary design research, you are usually gathering two types of information:

  • Exploratory (general, open-ended research)
  • Specific (research used to solve a problem identified during the exploratory phase)

Secondary research

Secondary design research is when you use existing data like books, articles, or the internet to validate or support existing research. You may use secondary research to create a stronger case for your design choices and provide additional insights into what you learned during primary research.

Evaluative design research

Evaluative design research is when you look at a specific problem to evaluate usability and interaction. One of the most popular ways to conduct evaluative research is to have people use your product and have them think out loud (a think out load test) as they interact with it.

There are two types of evaluative studies:

  • Summative
  • Formative

Summative emphasizes the outcome more than the process (looking at whether the desired effect is achieved), and formative is used to strengthen the idea being tested (monitoring the success of a flow).