Design creates a significant competitive advantage in the market. In fact, research has shown that design-led firms yield a 228% greater ROI than the S&P 500. When design is used strategically, a company can achieve both higher growth rates and margins than competitors. Design research plays a pivotal role in discovering design solutions that meet business objectives. The evolution of technology, openness of the Internet, and advancement of analytics has led to greater access to visual resources online, platforms that enable user testing, and more advanced tools for design research. How does design research simultaneously minimize production costs and amplify results to provide value?
Design Research Integrates Strategy And Testing
Tim Brown of IDEO describes design-thinking as a “discipline that uses the designer’s sensibility and methods to match people’s needs with what a viable business strategy can convert into customer value and market opportunity.” Consider this in conjunction with the words of Roger Martin: “Strategy can be thought of as moving from the conceptual realm to the concrete realm through the process of iterative prototyping.”
Since design requires a blend of user experience, technology, aesthetics, and business objectives, reaching peak design effectiveness around a specific goal requires a disciplined design research process. In ACM Interactions, design processes are broken down through an evolving map of design research methods, including expert versus participatory mindsets and a design-led versus a research-led approach. User-centric approaches continue to dominate design research, with key elements like human factors driving a multi-faceted design approach that is both functional and emotional. These techniques all contribute to unearthing valuable information about what users want and need, as well as what brands are trying to communicate.
A blend of different methods can lead to interesting insights, as designers have to bring in their expertise while remaining open to co-creation and input from users, balancing a design-led approach with more traditional research methods. In the academic world, this is a form of hypothesis-testing. In the world of technology, this is essentially a form of rapid prototyping. In all worlds, this form of research and testing is a proven form of vast exploration with minimal investment – in other words, a crucial step in the process!
Design Research Uncovers Actionable Insights
Preferences and taste in design aesthetic can be extremely difficult to pin down – especially when several stakeholders are involved – making design decisions more complex. What “bold” or “vibrant” means to one person may mean something entirely different to another. Language alone simply cannot capture all the nuances of an experience.
The complexity inherent in design makes research an even more important role in the initial stages of identifying and agreeing upon tastes before heavy investments are made into photography or layouts. Jony Ives, Chief Designer of Apple recently described the biggest challenge of their design process as “giving form to an abstract idea.”
How does a team of designers accurately and strategically capture and design brand associations, elicit emotions, and achieve goals through form, interaction, and visual aesthetic? Research and experimentation are the keys to unlocking clarity and refining a vision. By testing a variety of “forms”, research removes “conjecture and faith” as Lockwood and Walton describe. Instead, conjecture and faith guide only the design of the research itself, allowing data and feedback to unveil actionable insights that lead to the final form.
Taking a user-centric approach, gathering feedback is key to developing a better understanding of what will resonate. One simple and highly effective stage in design research is conducting customer interviews to uncover internal biases and look for information clusters.
At Digital Telepathy, moodboards are a phase in the design process that allows for testing to get to a more refined vision. Each area merits its own moodboard: iconography, photography, typography and color. After analyzing feedback, it becomes clear which resonate most with brand and business goals.
In the design of Adventure.com, moodboards were developed to pinpoint everything from photographic treatment to specific graphic styles. The upfront collection of treatments in this phase of design research enables designers to suss out the appropriate visual aesthetic and uncover core elements of the design that may be the foundation for a specific vision. Design research allows for the exploration and definition of highly abstract concepts. It reduces guesswork, miscommunications, and inefficiencies in the development process through prioritizing early-stage testing and definition.
According to Laura Klein, a Lean UX and Research expert in Silicon Valley, “Research: the heart of the lean build-measure-learn cycle. [Research] makes it quicker and easier to learn what you need to know, make a design change, and then test that change, since you will see patterns much more quickly.”
Uncovering real insights that lead to business results requires testing and experimentation, which is rooted in strategy and design-thinking. Technology has evolved to enable rapid experimentation and A/B testing by making it far easier and cheaper to aggregate and share concepts, as well as field-test concepts with analytics, yielding actionable insights for designers and businesses. The cheaper and earlier failures and testing can happen in the design cycle, the more key elements of the design can be surfaced, allowing teams to learn and innovate faster.
For BetterLesson, DT developed a formula for better app design, diving headfirst into learning about users, acting as an extension to the BetterLesson team in order to execute rapid iterations, getting to decisions in a 24-hr turnaround time through a tightly integrated team structure. Leveraging this iterative, agile, and objective-based design research methodology, we were able to successfully go through 46 mockup iterations, 17 custom designed icons, and resolve over 17 issues in 3 months, getting to a highly optimized app interface for teachers and curriculum.
At Cooper Interaction Design, Goal-Directed Design focuses on user goals and motivations in the requirement-gathering process. According to Cooper, Goal-Directed Design is a process that follows six phases: Research, modeling, requirements definition, framework definition, refinement, and support. Essentially, research, modeling, requirements, and framework definitions are all forms of exploration, validation, and testing.
There are four key aspects of experimentation that result in cost-savings and design optimizations:
- Conservation of capital: Test marketability without the heavy upfront investment with simple but effective experiments to gauge preferences around visual aesthetic through methods like moodboarding.
- Contextual considerations: Technology enables live prototyping to occur contextually, providing insight into potential solutions based on observations of actual behaviors through structured, situation-relevant analysis.
- Improved forecasting: Even with very small-scale tests, prototyping can provide statistically significant results around the viability and success of specific designs, allowing for more optimal budgeting.
- Provides qualitative and quantitative feedback: The marriage of both qualitative and quantitative feedback enables better design decisions to be made. As Robert Sutton teaches his students at the Hasso Plattner Institute of Design at Stanford, “the fastest way to improve your prototype is to get it in front of users and to keep iterating in response to their feedback.”
We’d Love to Help You
By integrating deeply into existing teams, taking a design-thinking, user-centric approach, DT focuses on understanding the problem. Our client portfolio proves that through testing and design research, DT enables clients to more rapidly arrive at actionable insights and optimal outcomes with more strategic allocation of investment. Technology accentuates the value of experimentation early on in the process through design research and ultimately leads to a significantly more optimal design strategy. The power to impact key metrics, research and strategic design is a mandate for mission-driven businesses who want to amplify the effects of their business goals.
If you’re interested in using design to make a huge impact on your business — get in touch!