Research

Design research caters an understanding of what product qualities will meet the perceptive, physical, emotional and behavioral needs of a target market. It informs and inspires design in ways that enhance brand loyalty, user satisfaction and overall product success. In the commercial context, design research carries real tangible value in a sense that it ensures better design results, it helps control resources and the content they produce, their timing and budget.

There are three types of design research within the "diverging-converging" design process: contextual, generative, and evaluative. All three have their place and importance and they do differ.

Contextual: lies in the diverging spectrum of the process and delivers insights to: 1. The business context (corporate and business strategies, partnerships, technology, product road maps, and potential impact); 2. External market environments (social/ behavioral/ cultural context and trends, competitive trends, design trends, technology, and regulatory trends); 3. Customer definition (segmentation, demographics, attitudes, aspirations, etc.).

Generative: lies in-between the diverging and converging spectrum and it delivers insights to: 1. Discovering new opportunities; 2. Discovering unmet needs; 3. Stimulating creativity.

Evaluative: lies in the converging spectrum of the process and delivers insights to: 1. Evaluating effectiveness; 2. Optimizing design; 3. Assessing business impact.

Within the different types of research, there are several methods for obtaining important information. These include: secondary, quantitative, qualitative, ethnographic, experiential, and participatory.

The ultimate motivation to conduct design research is for it to lead to solutions. However, the primary outcome of the research process is data, which if regarded on its own is not very relevant for design professionals. The data needs to be translated into insights through applying knowledge and analyzing the available information.

Teams

Design-focused organizations are at some point confronted with the task of efficiently and effectively managing a design team in order to deliver on established strategic goals. As such, a simple definition of a design team is a group of professional designers who have a design task. Such teams could be external or internal and their performance and output is greatly influenced by:

  1. The strategic integration of the team with the company
  2. The hierarchical structure of the team
  3. The size of the team
  4. The discipline diversity within the team
  5. The culture of the organization and the team itself
  6. The type of design disciplines practiced
  7. The type of personalities

It is no secret that complex design projects are best tackled with a multi-disciplinary approach, which by definition suggests professional and cultural differences need to be managed carefully. While cultural diversity is indeed beneficial to the task at hand, it can also provide a point of disagreement and lack of understanding for each other. Careful selection of the project team and appreciation for different cultures is essential to the project success. Design leaders are people focused and leverage their communication, conflict resolution, and collaboration skills in order to inspire an ever-higher level of performance. A tool for successfully understanding professionals and teams in the commercial context is the Insights Discovery approach (www.insights.com). Offering a common language for personal and team development, Insights Discovery is an empathy-building tool for helping people understand themselves and others better.

The model is based on Carl Jung's research in people's distinguished preferences of our psychology. There are four basic conceptions and each one has a color assigned to it to complete the Discovery Wheel:

  • extroverted thinking (RED)
  • extroverted feeling (YELLOW)
  • introverted thinking (BLUE)
  • introverted feeling (GREEN)

The preferences characterized by the above colors inform on the behavioral aspects of the individual. The collection of individuals and their character traits reflect on the team's strengths and weaknesses. On an organizational level, colors speak for the company's culture.

Tools

The design professional's job is related to translating abstract business ideas into specific feature sets and attributes that are easy to define, describe and translate into executable products and/or services. This is often done under a great deal of pressure generated by stakeholders, by lack of information, by working with entirely new materials, technologies and teams who might lack the skills required to get the job done. These complex situations are better managed and lead with the presence of adequate design tools.

Design Tools - comprised of devices and techniques - are a subset of the design methods, which are a subset of the design process itself. By definition a tool is a device that makes completing a task easier and is not consumed in the process of achieving it. However, the act of designing is both a physical and a mental process, which implies that there are non-physical ones as well - namely techniques.

Defining and carefully managing the appropriate use of design tools in the different stages of the development process ensures repeatable and efficient results, saves time, offers new inspiring ways of doing things, and demonstrates professionalism to stakeholders. Additionally, it helps companies develop a unique approach and strengthen the design process.

Briefing

Design Briefing is the culmination of a long and arduous process of research, investigation, negotiation, testing, and synthesizing vast amounts of information about a real problem that exists, yet a good solution is still distant. In commercial terms this manifests itself as a document that captures information from business, from technical, and from design perspective about why, what and how a new product or service is called for at this time. It defines the vision (or why should one act), the intent (or what shall be done), and the plan (or how it would be done and who should be involved in the process) for execution.

This document is possibly the most strategically important one for aligning all teams involved in the creative process - from sales and marketing, through design and engineering, to operations and finance. It goes into great lengths of painting the picture of what the success metrics of a program would look like: business and marketing scope, feature sets, functional, aesthetic, haptic characteristics, financial performance metrics and budgets, timing and schedule, teams and experts involved, and desired business impact as a result. The so-called "Brief" feeds the entire development process and governs its careful executions with constraints and respective opportunities for break-through success.

Process

The design process is a structured and repeatable set of steps that produce desirable, viable and feasible products, experiences and services with clear commercial priorities and constraints. A well-defined design process should consider ot only the dynamic within the development team and its direct partners, but the entire company's culture and various contributors along the development process. Since product development is not solely the responsibility of the development team, a company's product development capacity is always limited by by its weakest partner within any given organization. Companies should strive to understand, map and optimize the whole interaction dynamic across all its disciplines as it relates to product development and its different stages. Managing the design process helps control the resources, timing, budget and creativity as well as gives insight into design progress and design quality.

Quality

Design Quality is much more than appearance and style - it incorporates the key requirements from stakeholders and business, usability and functionality, value considered through the entire life of the product including maintenance, serviceability, and sustainability. It is not merely subjective and it can be defined and measured from the organization / team that creates the product or service and is subjectively measured by its intended target customers. As such, Design Quality has no meaning unless related to a set of objectives.

The careful management of Design Quality in commercial context is very important. Delivering too much Design Quality can come at a high price relative to the intended budget and purpose. Delivering too little Design Quality can be harmful to the image of the brand, produce customer dissatisfaction and result in lesser future business. Misjudging the type and level of Design Quality needed could result in lack of interest in the product or service.

Language

A Design Language is a collection of design attributes that ensure the consistent look and feel over time and across all touch points of a brand including: products, graphics, packaging, colors, finishes, haptics, digital and retail experiences, etc. This consistency provides high recognizability of the brand.

Companies should strive to develop a design language based on internal surveys on brand and visual preference, strategy and culture while considering the commercial context in which they compete. Once the intent is recorded, a proper design language definition ensues, which aims to apply its design principles over the various aspects comprising the complete design language set and applied over the various touch points. Communicating the results so they are effectively understood and applied by all departments.

Design language systems are only as good as the level of scrutiny applied over time. Companies need to determine a service period length that suits their needs yet keeps the products and services fresh and relevant.

Recording, publishing, communicating and measuring the effectiveness of design language helps companies in a few different ways:

  • improves brand recognition and loyalty
  • decreases development time and cost
  • facilitates objective assessment of design work
  • can support specific business strategies