"Each project must include a research phase."
This is the dominant point of view in modern user-centered design. Moreover, many of my Adaptive Path colleagues will not be involved in a project if it does not include a sufficient amount of research to discover the goals, needs, and motivations of potential users. Recently, I increasingly notice how my views on the importance of research are becoming less and less dogmatic. On several recent projects, I generally (or almost) did not conduct research - and these products turned out to be very successful and loved by users. Just luck? Not sure that everything is so simple.
What I am sure is that research is very weakly related to the ultimate success or failure of the product. Microsoft spent two years researching before the release of Vista. Apple, as far as I know, did not conduct any research on Mac OS X. Nowadays, many factors are involved in the process of creating a product (technology, business, marketing, ...), so judging the value of the research based on the success of the final product is not quite justified, but the designers have almost no other way to make this assessment. An excellent understanding of the user's needs has no practical value, like saying that you cannot see forests behind trees unless it leads to a successful product.
If we talk about projects that are based on the results of other projects, by the way, such projects constitute the overwhelming majority. Is there a need to conduct research in order to add new functionality to the software product or a new section on the site? Answer: "Maybe
With equal probability, you can answer: "Perhaps not
Miracle of Design Jesse James Garrett,
in his programmatic article, ia / recon
, recognizes that it is his intuition that is the ultimate criterion in making design decisions:
“Guessing is a necessary part of our work. Moreover, it is the quality of guessing that distinguishes a good designer from a mediocre one. ” Michael Berut
develops this topic in his recent post
“Sometimes the idea of designing just appears in my head from nowhere. I can not explain how this happens. It looks like a miracle. ”
One of the criteria for hiring designers and designers is their competence - that “guessing ability” - part of which is knowing what will work in most situations and what is not. It can be argued that this competence, which consists of intuition, experience, understanding and sense of style, is more important than understanding the needs of users. I still do not dare to make such a statement, but I am convinced that such an approach is more justified than the dogma that research should be included in every project. Around us are countless evidence of the fallacy of this dogma: starting from a banal dining fork and ending with an iPod.
When to do research
In my projects I use the following rules regarding the relevance of research. Studies should be carried out only if:
- You do not know the project domain well enough. For example, I am not an expert in bank investments, and if I needed to design a project for investment bankers, then I would need to get a better idea of who they are and what they do.
- The project is based on a culture different from your own. Chinese culture is different from American, or from Indian, or from European ... Difference in cultures can lead to differences in behavior and in expectations from the product.
- You do not know who the future users of your product will be. It sounds trite, but surprisingly, how many companies do not know who uses their products and why. If you find that your view of who the users of the product are is different from that of the other key project participants, and you want to come to a consensus, then the research will be very useful to you.
- You yourself will never use the product you are developing. Fortunately, I, as a wealthy white man of more than 30 years old, get to the target audience of very many products. But I am not a doctor or a nurse, until I use any medical equipment, so I have to rely on the results of research in order to learn how such equipment can be used. Note that this approach works mainly for some products with a narrow focus group that will be used by a small specific user group.
- The product contains functionality intended for specific types of users who are engaged in specific work. A job that you may never do. For example, I did not use many of the features of MS Office and I do not intend to use it, but there are many key users for whom this functionality is simply necessary. Sometimes research should be done to understand both the nuances of this specific functionality and its importance for certain groups of users.
- You lack inspiration. Sometimes work on a project can get stuck, and then half a day spent away from the computer monitor can fill you with ideas and expand the development of the product in a new direction.
- You need a greater sense of empathy with your users. Designing for some specific user groups is more difficult than for others. For example, Neo-Nazi from Illinois - I would never undertake to design for them. But older users or users suffering from a particular disease? It is difficult to understand, to feel their situation, when you know nothing about it.
- You just do not have enough experience. Admit it can be unpleasant, but necessary. Research will not make you a good designer, but they will help you to design better by providing a new look at the situation and saving you from making those small mistakes that a more experienced specialist would not have made.
Tool, not approach
Some might argue that all the rules I just described apply to any project and to any designer. And it will have some reason. Who, for example, does not need inspiration and empathy?
But in my article I really wanted to say this:
“Stop thinking about research as an indispensable part of the design process, start thinking of it as another useful tool.”
To argue that research is a necessary part of any project is in line with the assertions that no project can do without wireframes or content analysis. We know that it is not. Research is useful for many types of projects, as I described it a little higher, but they are not necessary.
Jesse James noted very precisely:
“Research can significantly enhance our intuition. But research should be an addition to the designer’s professional sense, not a substitute. ”
In the arsenal of the designer there are many different tools and research - one of them. Just like other tools, the study should be applied then, when they are needed, not to be thoughtlessly used in every project. Dan Saffer is a senior engagement designer at Adaptive Path. He specializes in website design for payments and e-commerce, applications and devices. He has worked for a large number of organizations, from startups to companies from Fortune 100. Den is the author of Designing for Interaction: Creating Smart Applications and Clever Devices .