Guide #014: How to create a framework for conducting design research

The type of research methodology you use can make or break your efforts. Rely on a cross-functional team and evolve as you learn.

Assemble a cross-functional team to explore the problem

When embarking on research for a design project, it’s always best to work within a cross-functional team with people from various backgrounds. The more diverse outlooks you have on your team, the more aspects of the problem you can consider, and the more you can analyze the data.

Utilize your cross-functional team to develop and prioritize problem statements

While formulating your problem statements, identify what data will flow in or out of your design solution. Ask what data you will have access to. Identify what data can be collected and how the collected data is going to be used. Look at existing data to see what’s missing. Make a list of what you want to learn. This will help your team see multiple sides of the problem and provide a clearer path to what needs to be addressed first, second, third, etc., to solve the problem. When prioritizing, also incorporate a reality check. Discuss the feasibility of ideas and weigh the benefits of an idea against how hard it might be to realize.

Broadly classify your problem statements into qualitative and quantitative categories

If a problem statement requires solid numbers like performance data to arrive at a solution, consider quantitative research methods. If you want to test a design solution based on a theory or hypothesis, quantitative is the preferred method. If a problem statement requires you to learn more about user reactions, or to uncover what’s behind a certain level of frustration, then look at qualitative research methods. If you want to understand how you might make an experience better, then qualitative research is the most useful approach.

Look at how other companies solved the problems you’re interested in

Define competitors by identifying who has addressed the problems you're trying to solve. You can start with direct competitors of a similar size or customer base, but push beyond this group to learn from companies outside of your industry, geography, etc. Browse community Slack channels, Facebook groups and my personal favorite, Twitter and Instagram hashtag searches to investigate how people talk about the products and experiences you’re interested in.

Record how people react to different executions of your design

Once you’ve started to define an experience around a design, use your prototype to conduct user interviews and usability testing. Put your designs out into the wild and have a set of questions ready or ask users to complete a set of tasks. Record how people react to different executions and identify what customer segments / demographics those reactions are associated with. Choose research participants based on the type of problem you're exploring. If you're creating a brand new product, you want to talk with people that have experience using something similar to get more constructive criticism or feedback.

Conduct evaluative research

As a final step, always make time to do evaluative research at the end of the design process. This is sometimes called a retrospective. Your focus should not just be on the design itself, but also on the process your team went through. Did your research techniques work? What types of methodology should you use in the future? How well did you collaborate with others? Did your team lack any perspectives, like a data analysis or product owner with business expertise who could have been in touch with other product owners across different teams.

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