How to Use Design Research & Strategy to Aid Any Organization

Tips to push for change within your job

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Far too commonly used as a noun instead of a verb, design is often touted as a tastemaker industry, relying heavily on aesthetics to push forward new innovations and developments. Lately however, the importance of design research has helped propel forward the understanding of the comprehensive nature of design, thanks in part to powerhouses creative agencies like Ideo and Frog who use their breadth of experience to develop innovative solutions for companies like Microsoft and Visa, respectively.

What is a design researcher?

When it comes to your business, you can look at a designer research as a cross between a business consultant, academic researcher, and a classic designer. It’s easy to confuse design research with market research as described by Panthea Lea from Reboot

Market research identifies and acts upon optimal market and consumer leverage points to achieve success. Its definition of success is not absolute, though metrics are often financial. Design research, on the other hand, is founded in the belief that we already know the optimal market and consumer leverage points: human needs. Unearthing and satisfying those needs is thus the surest measure of success. Through this process, we earn people’s respect and loyalty.

It’s the difference between market research and design research that make it so important. As Lea mentions, with design research, we already have the foundation of knowledge from market and consumer perspectives. It is design research that takes hold of those data points and transforms them into successful products, services, and systems. Lea also created this great chart showcasing the roles of market/design research.

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Design Research is not merely about collecting data (which is done with a focus on ethnography), it is about data synthesis and using data to develop a solution to an important problem.

How to leverage Design Research

How do you, an entrepreneur or small-mid business owner leverage the skill sets of these design agencies with a limited budget? It’s not as easy as it may seem to simply implement design research into your own practice. While methods such as design thinking are something you and your team can adapt and use as a tool, design research is a much more specialized field. If you do not have the means to hire a large agency to help you out with your design problem, you are most likely best suited to hire a freelancer! Design research and strategy is a method of design thinking that is now a standard of design training at many an institution.

1. Define your problem space

Every organization has a problem they need to solve, be it big and small. Design research can tackle problems with a range of sizes.

2. Locate a Design Researcher

Obviously a critical stage in using design research to tackle your organization’s problem. Locating a Design Researcher can be quite a task

  • LinkedIn — You’re on the platform for a reason, so utilize it! Many research based designers will be engaged in groups like Design Thinking, and Design Research, so join a group or simply search for design research within your city.
  • Network — Outside of social media, you are sure to know a creative individual, or someone who has ties to the creative field. Ask your friends and colleagues if they know of any researches that can help you out.
  • Educational Institutes — Almost all educational institutions have a job board available online that you anyone is free to post (usually upon approval). Synthesize your idea and gain access to the knowledge and energy of a design student, who is likely to aid in the development of your organization. If you have an especially complex or innovative problem space, many Universities are looking for industry sponsors to either pair with students or course.
  • Job-boards — It never hurts to take a more traditional approach and post a job posting on LinkedIn, Craigslist, Indeed, etc to reach a broader audience.

3. Collaborate

Now that you’ve found your unicorn Design Researcher, its important to collaborate them. Any good Design Researcher is going to want to have an initial brainstorm/co-creation with you and your team (this is a red flag if they do not). Use this time to share any and all information you have based around your selected problem space. Be sure not to leave out any details, as Design Researcher is thrives on those minute details and uses them to uncover profound insights.

4. Allow for play

Possibly one of the most important factors to keep in mind when working with any kind of designers. Let them explore! If you’re the micromanaging type, this may be difficult for you, but it’s in your best interest to let go. Some of the most creative solutions come from the most unexpected places, so if the designer does not have the opportunity to play, you’re potentially missing out on some major advancements in your product/service/system.

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So the next time you’re looking to do a rebrand, develop a new product or service, or simply update your website; be sure to locate yourself a designer with a focus on research and strategist. These multi-faceted creatives are sure to bring you powerful projects that are more than just a pretty face.


What is Design Research?

Clarity and PivotPlanet are two tools that can be used to locate potential research partners or experts in a field

Mural is remote design brainstorming tool

How to Pitch Design Research

To learn even more about Design Research, take a look at the SVA’s 2015 MFA Design Criticism Thesis Publication. Its these types of thinkers that are going to bring more to your company.

Seth Parker is a Research Based Design & Creative Strategist from Vancouver, BC, Canada.

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