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You’re making a beautiful design, having stakeholders buy-in and moving ahead of schedule, but it falls flat with your clients. Why?

Okay, have you noticed and been taking the time to see what they were thinking?

Design research is vital, but sometimes overlooked, phase in creating the best user experience. It helps you to understand and turn complex human actions into usable information to better your design. We will talk to you through what design research is in this article, how to use it and its greatest benefits.

Design research is a customer-focused approach that helps you answer questions like:

-Who are your potential users?

-What problems are they facing?

-How are they going to use or benefit from your product?

The goal is to find inspiration for design through qualitative and quantitative research based on how your consumers will actually use your product or service.

Design Research vs. Market Research

While there are things in common between design and market research, they are very different in terms of scope, data and end results. At a high level, market research focuses on buying and selling the product or service, while design research examines how customers use it and experience it.

Market research is inherently more quantitative. You are usually reviewing large data sets to define consumer segment-speaking business observations, sectors, patterns and demographics. Design research tilts more towards qualitative data where you attempt to answer the “why” behind the actions and engagement of the customers.

Research Methods Designers Should Know

There are endless ways to gather information about your customers. We usually fall into these categories, whichever approaches you should choose: attitudinal, behavioral qualitative, quantitative, and context of use.


Maybe the most important approach of design analysis, this includes you or your team going directly to the source (your clients) to ask questions and collect data. Definitions of primary research include focus groups, workshops on usability surveys and interviews. So you typically collect two types of information in primary research: exploratory (general, open-ended research) so specific (research used to solve a problem that was found during the exploratory phase).


Secondary research is when using existing data such as books, papers or the internet to verify or endorse existing research. You can use secondary research to create a stronger argument for your choice of design and provide further insights into what you’ve learned during primary research.


Evaluative work explores a specific problem for determining usability and interaction. One of the most popular ways of carrying out evaluative research is to get people to use the product or service and get them to think out loud as they communicate. Two forms of evaluative research exist: summative and formative. Summative examines the outcome more than the process (looking at whether the desired effect is achieved) and it uses formative to improve the concept being evaluated (monitoring the performance of a process).

How do you determine which form of study to employ? It all depends on what you make and what you seek to learn. Sometimes, you can start with primary research and find that after gathering preliminary data (that’s a good thing!) more, new questions emerge. Such new questions will hopefully instruct you on what to know next.

Benefits of Design Research

Design research requires time, money and planning but it is worth the results. Here are four of project research’s greatest benefits:

Facts Over Assumptions in Design

It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking, “I already know who my customers are, so I don’t have to do any more work.” It’s true that we all have a working knowledge of who our users are, but understanding their pain points, what they’re looking for in a product and how they’d use your product are not things you can learn from a one-off email interaction.

Prioritize and Focus

If you are balancing demands for functionality, input from stakeholders and a tight project timeline, customer data will help you focus on what’s most important. After all, if during the research phase something that wasn’t resolved before launch came up, you can bet the problem won’t go away on its own.

Increase Empathy in Customers

Having facetime with your customers reminds everyone they’re real people with thoughts and feelings, not just a number on a forecast of progress. Creating stronger consumer relationships helps you in your day-to-day job and decision making.

Happier Customers

Through testing your product in the wild, you will create a user experience with real customers that will please and not frustrate. You may repair simple things like a frustrating interface or ambiguous route to buy that would otherwise have led to support calls or angry emails from customers.

While we are not able to sit next to our ideal customer every day as we plan, iterate, and check (that would be too easy!), doing product testing is a great alternative.

And yes, no matter how much data you have accumulated in the past, or how well you think you know your clients, there is always something new to learn.

Want to know more? See what design research could offer you today, consult with us.

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