Why do design research
Part 2:
How to get design research on a dime (and a deadline)

In Part 1, “Why do design research: Deconstructing the excuses,” we examined the reasons people often give for eliminating design research from product development when budgets and schedules get tight. We’ve hopefully shown you why those reasons are flawed and why design research is a critical step in the process. However, knowing the criticality of design research doesn’t change the fact that the project has a tight budget and a compact schedule. So now what?

Conducting design research does require some time and money. That’s just reality. But it doesn’t have to be budget-busting or time-draining.

But the way to save time and money is NOT to ask your employees to double as a research team.  You know you need the insights from research to make effective business strategies. But assigning research – to engineers, PMs, managers, interns, etc. – instead of hiring research expertise is not the way to save time and money! You’ll likely pay for it later when flawed data fractures your strategies and weakens your market impact. Instead, educate yourself about the many tools and methods available to intelligently pick a la carte in accordance with your deadlines and budget. Some good data is better than lots of flawed data.

Here are more tips for effective, expedient design research on a budget:

  • Know who your users are: Focus design research by working with marketing research to identify and prioritize market segments. You already know the segment and that will focus the user research. Stephanie McHenry, former Marketing Director at Daedalus, says, “One of the biggest mistakes marketers make is when they speak to a segment, a group. You have to speak to the individual in that target segment.” User centered research focuses your solution on the user’s particular needs.
  • Know your competition: Benchmark the features and functions of similar products, services, and interfaces to guide research questions. And, as an added benefit, you’ll be able to carry on an intelligent, informed conversation should a participant reference competitors.
  • If only one method can be used, choose user interviews: For insight gathering, nothing compares to actually talking to and hearing from users directly. Through a face-to-face conversation, you can read facial expressions and body language, ask for clarifications, and dig deep to uncover the underlying ‘whys.’ Talk to users in groups of 2 or 3 if you need to talk with more users in less time. And talk with them in the context of use. You’ll notice things they do that they don’t mention and you can ask for clarification and demonstration. You’ll walk away with a more holistic understanding of who, what, where, and even why – answers you need before designing and marketing a new or improved product.
  • If nothing else, talk to your customer call center representatives: Besides the users themselves, no one knows the problems of the users more than the customer call center. If talking to a user face-to-face or by phone is impossible, spend a few hours talking with customer service personnel. As a side note, be careful analyzing information collected in this way. Because you’re hearing feedback second hand, there’s room for incorrect interpretation and information being lost in translation. Also, keep in mind that this method will most often only tell you about the worst of your users’ experiences, negating anything positive, which can be just as important to know, and eliminating the ability to see or hear unspoken opportunities for improvement.
  • Use guerilla testing techniques: One of the most time consuming portions of design research is recruiting participants. Maintain a list of companies or users that have already agreed to participate in design research. Consider using a recruiting firm; depending on the specificity of the user type, paying someone who has access to ample databases may be more cost and time efficient. And lastly, don’t be afraid to use your personal network. There’s less resistance from users to participate in research if they’ve already met you.
  • Most importantly, start early!  Waiting to schedule visits can hinder the project timeline. Design research and all its logistics should be one of the first things to think about. In fact, it should be thought about prior to the official launch of the project.

So no more excuses. Design research is important, and even if the ideal research is not feasible, any thoughtfully led design research is better than none because it mitigates the many risks of a product launch. Or you can spend hours and dollars designing something that isn’t useful, usable, or desired, betting the whole project on red 17 and hoping for the best… Play it safe. Play it smart. Avoid unnecessary risk. Invest in the user, and they will more likely invest in your product.