What makes a meaningful Design Research?
There are many ways of searching and finding a problem, but not all of them have long-term and meaningful solutions. Here, I will attempt to describe some researches and explaining why they are working for certain contexts and how they are not. I made a diagram that explains this in a better more visual way. The horizontal axis is talking about how the research is focusing in working with the participants or working for them, which have can make the research have different results. The vertical axis describes if the research is based on a qualitative or a quantitative result of the investigation.
I have named each author a different way so that we can all understand a little bit of what are they talking about. Now that you have seen who and why these people inspired me to do this type on diagram. I will start saying that I am going to be talking about the diagram from least important to most important, that is from the bottom right corner to the top right corner.
Liz Sanders had three different values of co-creation that I thought of them as separate and very different researches, so I will describe them in the order that they have in the diagram, I have them numbered for a better understanding of which is what.
The value number three is the Monetary Value it is mainly fueled by making efficient ways of gaining more money. It only addresses short-term needs and has no depth of emotional bonding with the users/customers, that means that if a new company comes along and sells the user something a little bit better, the user will not hesitate and change companies. The designers roll is to make marketing and creative solutions that bring more profit to the company, not looking at their actual needs. And it is based on a quantitative result, numbers and data are more important than experiences and stories.
We continue with Don Norman or how I address him “but first… technology”, he talks about Technology innovation and that means to have a product that either fails or has a slow acceptance because people are not ready for them. They are the inventors of new and useful products and the needs get discovered afterwards, because technology enables the designers. The role of the designer starts when there is an actual product because as Normal says, we just improve existing products. With quantitative results because it is based in scientific facts and no interest in working with the participants because technology does not bases their facts in actual people or needs and wants.
Liz Sander’s number two comes next, with the Use or experience value that is fueled to transform customers into users, making them have an emotional connection that allows them to trust the brand, having them then buy their product and being the brand’s fruitful followers, resulting with a stable and lovable brand. The role of the designer is to find and design those emotional bonds and to build that trust so it is sort of leaning to a marketing approach. The results are both quantitative and qualitative because they want to get involved in their follower’s needs and wants.
Jon Kolko has too been separated in two completely different ideas that companies cannot seem to understand the differences. Numbering them to understand which one is which.
Marketing Research is the research number two, it is a process that link the users and marketers to identify new problems or opportunities. It is pretty similar to the Value of Use and Experience mentioned before, it is all about finding and exploiting those emotional connections. The designer forms part of a tangible and tactical part of the process. The content is both qualitative and quantitative, but I would lean more in a quantitative approach because it bases more on masses and not on the uniqueness of the participants.
In the quadrant above we have Bill Gaver with his clue interpretations. Cultural probes as they call them, are a collection of evocative tasks for inspirational responses (clues). I would not call this a Research as it is not attempting to find worth solving problems. It is 100% qualitative, as they base their study in stories about participants with no meaning because they don’t even know them. So for me it would be like looking at a random person’s Instagram Feed and coming up with a real (stereotypical) story of who they are. The results (if there are any) are mostly self-centered, because the role of the designer in this case is to interpret the tasks with their own experiences.
Changing to the right-side quadrant we go with Chris LeDantec and his attempt to empower the homeless community. This research consists in a better version of Bill Gaver’s probes and results. It also starts with a camera but ends up with interesting and game changing solutions. The role of the designer is to find making insights, designing solutions and testing them with the actual public bearing in mind that to do that there has to be an involvement of Inclusive design in order to be reaching to the whole community. It is al first working more for the participants as there is only one interview that consists in explaining the pictures taken, but in the second phase of the research they empower and involve the community in the designing and testing of the product.
Moving to Jane Fulton Suri with her Experience prototyping, it consists in enabling the users to gain fist-hand appreciation of a product or service through active engagement. This is helpful if the experience reaches a holistic approach, making the participants “look and feel” the same way they would have done with the actual product or service. Then the role of the designer is crucial, making an integrated and holistic experience rather than an artifact. It is a qualitative result because it is based on real experiences, although they can’t be measured because each person’s experience is unique.
Jodi Forlizzi talks about Product Ecology, it is a theoretical design framework of how products evoke social behavior and describe conditions of change. So basically, how a product functions and what can be better in the way participant behave around it. They have to see the problem and also see what is around the problem to get a better understanding of who are using it and in what context. The role of the designer is about seeking problems and improving existing products. It is a qualitative result because they are trying to understand behavior surrounding a product use in the context where it is usually used.
Jon Kolko’s number one in the diagram would be Design Research. It focuses on the people and the attempts to understand their culture, looking directly at the problem but also around it to have a holistic mindset. Designers have a strategic role, where they are part of participation and discussions, using their ability to think, analyze and produce. It is both qualitative and quantitative but the results are more about content in stories and field patterns.
Last but not least we have Liz Sanders and the Value number one, the Social Value it is fueled by a co-creative, longer-term and humanistic sustainable approach. At the beginning of the research there is no knowledge of what the outcome is going to be by having open ended questions. It is pretty similar to John Kolko´s Design Research. The meaning is in the behavioral conversations with the participants. The designer is included in the whole process of the research. The co-creation with the participants is critical for it to work correctly.
So to wrap up I would say that in order to have a meaningful Research we should attempt to have a co-creation and collective and people-centered way of working. Understanding our participants and the problems worth solving. And a meaningful Design research would be the same but including the designer in the whole process, as well as having strategic ideas in the synthesis and insight phases.