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The Unexpected Role of Research in Design Projects

Business

May 16, 2022 - 4 minute read

2403 Blog Post The Unexpected Role Of Research In Design Projects 416X300
Radosław Taraszka Head of Design

He’s a designer, husband, dad and a man looking for solutions. As the Head of Design at Objectivity, he designs the space for exploration and experimentation for the Research and Design team. He believes that the key skill in a designer's work is the ability to communicate the discovered problems and proposed solutions in a clear and precise manner. Radek has been working in the IT industry since 2009. Before that, over the years, he has cooperated with UXPin, Ideacto, Divante and Witflow. In his free time, he composes pieces of music or listens to music while running or riding a bike. 

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How do you know what you’ll need to complete a project, be it a personal or professional one? The answer that immediately comes to mind is research. However, we all have our assumptions and ideas that may be contradicted by the results of our research activities. What should we keep in mind to avoid surprises in the end?

A Real-Life Example

Before we discuss an actual design project, let’s have a look at a case that could happen to anyone trying to tackle an unknown challenge.

I was renovating a house built in the 1920s, and it turned out that the standard construction methods used now, i.e. 100 years later, didn’t work for my building at all. At almost every stage of the process, I had to deal with some unexpected challenges. One of the surprises came with the search for mineral wool to insulate the roof.

At first, I performed preliminary research and decided on the wool type and the maximum price I was willing to pay. In other words, I defined two features and considered them the only important ones. Then, I called about twenty wholesalers and building depots and learned that making the purchase decision would be more difficult than I had anticipated.

The more thorough research revealed:

  • The wool I chose wasn’t available at every warehouse (the availability criterion).
  • Even if it was there, there wasn’t always enough for my needs (the quantity criterion).
  • Every seller offered an alternative to the wool I had selected, so I had to add new wool types to my list (the product criterion).
  • The price was different at each store (the price criterion).

I ended up choosing the insulation based on all the above criteria and an additional criterion of delivery. My options included buying an alternative wool type in full quantity from a single store or getting smaller amounts of the preferred type from several sellers. The delivery turned out to be a very important factor that I hadn’t considered at the beginning at all.

Of course, one can simply say that I’m a total amateur in the field of renovation, so situations like this are bound to happen. Yes, and the learning process can be expensive. However, in a professional environment, especially in very complex projects with many stakeholders, we must keep in mind all the perspectives and goals that have to be met by the product or service.

What Can Research Change in a Design Project?

A few months ago, a client invited our design team to a project with the goal of correcting their outdated interface — or at least that was the task they initially defined. In situations like this, when the client has already predefined the purpose of the project and found the cause of a specific issue, first we need to understand where the conclusion was drawn from. One of the best methods of achieving this is assessing the maturity of the design process. In doing so, we need to answer the following questions:

  • What methodology of work has been adopted in the project? What stages did the project go through?
  • What tools were used at each stage of the project work?
  • How did the team approach data collection and analysis?
  • How was the data synthesised and presented in the form of a problem hypothesis?

In the case of this project, a yellow light came on quite early. We convinced the client that the best investment at this stage would be to organise a 2-day workshop with their representatives, specialists from our team, and product users. This discovery workshop allowed us to learn two fundamental pieces of information:

  • Was the UI non-ergonomic and outdated? — Yes.
  • Were the UI issues the main problem? — No.

During the workshop, end users quickly indicated that they also use systems offered by our client’s competition. With the same service, they can complete the task a few times (!) faster at the competitor's site. A quick, well-organised comparative analysis confirmed the users' observations (30 minutes vs 5 minutes), so the technical team was invited to the discussion. They diagnosed certain problems with the performance of the client’s solution's backend.

Was our client prepared for such a turn of events? Of course not! They were naturally surprised that what they expected to be an opportunity for a “quick win” was actually a much more complex matter. However, once they had the chance to carefully consider the situation, they became aware of the kind of task they were actually facing. They were then also able to ask themselves the critical question — “Do we want to improve this product, or do we have to build a new solution from scratch?”. Arguably, arriving at this question was worth organising the workshop.

Final Thoughts

When deciding to research a project, we must be prepared to discover additional layers of the issue in question. What seems like a simple decision (e.g. choosing between two options) may suddenly become a much more time-consuming and challenging task (e.g. making multi-level and interdependent choices). It’s good to remember a few rules:

  • Before you do the research, think about the criteria that will impact your decisions.
  • If a client comes to you with a hypothesis, start by verifying the process of how they reached it.
  • Bear in mind that the result of your research may be completely different from what you initially assumed, and it may affect the entire project.

And, if your project turns out to be something completely different after the research phase, you’re probably asking yourself if this is really what you wanted to get. So, the main element that needs to be consistent before and after the research phase is the business goal. If the business goal and set KPIs remain unchanged, this just means that you discovered another path to achieve your objectives — but this time, the path is in sync with your customers’ goals.

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Radosław Taraszka Head of Design

He’s a designer, husband, dad and a man looking for solutions. As the Head of Design at Objectivity, he designs the space for exploration and experimentation for the Research and Design team. He believes that the key skill in a designer's work is the ability to communicate the discovered problems and proposed solutions in a clear and precise manner. Radek has been working in the IT industry since 2009. Before that, over the years, he has cooperated with UXPin, Ideacto, Divante and Witflow. In his free time, he composes pieces of music or listens to music while running or riding a bike. 

See all Radosław's posts

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