Design research coordinates methodical, time-tested techniques to uncover user needs, goals, and motivations in the context of specific communities and markets. Insights derived from these tasks help organizations make informed decisions in response to the opportunities and challenges of communicating and doing business online.
I use design research to help you identify opportunities in a landscape of data and then figure out how those opportunities fit into a larger perspective and strategy.
Why Design Research Matters
Design research is important any time you need to align what you’re offering online with what your target users are seeking online. This is a clear need during the initial design and launch of a new (or redesigned) website. Design research is also important when you’re looking for ways to improve a website that has “fallen out of alignment” over time, or when your market shifts and you need to change how you communicate online. Understanding and matching the goals of users with the goals of the organization at these moments of evolution is your best way to ensure that all the design and development work that follows pays off.
The design research toolkit has a number of approaches that can be customized to the needs of a particular project, research question, and study subject group. Here are a few of the techniques I use to help clients make informed strategy and design decisions.
Discovery techniques build context for the problem we’re investigating and spark ideas for what might be possible. Discovery builds a foundation for research and design activities to follow. Common techniques include:
- User and stakeholder interviewing
- Contextual inquiry
- Open card sorting
- Secondary research
Assessments provide a formal evaluation of an interface or context of use. Assessments can deliver an unbiased outside perspective on gaps in best practices, accessibility problems, and performance defects. Assessments I’ve provided for clients in the past include:
- Competitive analysis
- Heuristic (UX best practices) analysis
- Accessibility auditing
- Performance auditing
Learn more: WHO UX Audit Case Study »
Synthesis is how you move from disconnected observations and themes to big picture insights and opportunities. This is where we’ll identify the patterns that run across research efforts—and uncover how to make sense of them in context. Synthesis techniques include:
- Affinity mapping
- Journey and process mapping
- Design principal formulation
- User story creation
Formative design research works wonders for getting us most of the way to the “right” design approach for a given set of users in a particular context. The best way to minimize the remaining risk inherent in any change is to test new designs with actual users, and then integrate any updates those tests suggest—ideally before the project goes live. Common validation techniques include:
- Tree testing
- Closed card sorting
- Baseline usability testing
- Prototype usability testing