What is the difference between “Juicy Salif” and an “iPhone”? Both novel for their time, the first is a beautiful sculpture, however useless orange squeezer the second a marvel in user-centered functionality.
Conducting thorough design research enhances the probability of creating novel design concepts. So, how come this is given so little attention and how can this situation be improved? Evidence-based, cross-disciplinary design research may offer a viable way forward.
The creative process of design, which is often based on tacit knowledge, intuition, assumptions and personal preferences, is often seen as a standard way of working in the field of design. However, as Gjoko Muratovski points out in his forthcoming book Research for Designers, it is time for the process of design to be enhanced and improved by bringing in evidence-based, cross-disciplinary design research into the mix. By using design research that transcends disciplinary boundaries, designers can be empowered to challenge existing conventions. Armed with data from their research they can introduce new and innovative solutions that might have been otherwise considered too risky without the supporting evidence.
The use of cross-disciplinary research in design is important because this represents a willingness to look beyond the immediate concern of project execution. Intuition is a good starting point, but design research can be a cornerstone of innovation strategy. In line with this, design research should be used as a process that brings together intelligence gathering, information analysis, synthesis and prototype testing.
Designers who are proficient in research methods that range from ethnography and case study development to user-centered design research and action research can be invaluable in any sector that seeks innovation. That is why research-savvy designers now have a seat in the boardroom and participate in the strategy planning and the development of the design brief, rather than waiting for the design brief to be delivered to them by the marketing or engineering department.
For example, the iPhone was based on significant amount of research and in return it revolutionized the whole mobile phone sector. The more research is involved in the early stages of the project, the lesser is the risk of failure in the marketplace. From this perspective evidence-based design research also acts as a form a risk reduction for the company. Other market leaders such as Nike, IBM, BMW, IKEA, Dyson, Harley-Davidson and Nintendo operate in the same way. Similar design research approaches are now also receiving traction both in the public sector and in the non-governmental sector.
What design research is essentially effective at is increasing offering’s innovativeness while ensuring usefulness and market acceptance. It achieves this feeding more of the right knowledge to designers, enabling them to jump into idea generation at a higher level
This way of working may come as new to many ‘old school’ designers who used to focus on form, style and processes of making, without taking into consideration the broader context in which their designs will be used. But this way of working is now seen as archaic in a globalized world that faces new challenges that range from global warming and terrorism to global epidemics and financial crises. If designers want to be recognized as strategic leaders that are capable of driving innovation in both business and the public sector, they will need to show a greater accountability and transparency in their work. They can do this by learning how to do design research.
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