When I worked in a photo studio, I assisted a team of people who took photographs for food ads, cookbooks, and packaging. We’d spend the day perfecting anything from fast food ads to cookbooks for world renowned chefs. Either way, the outcome was always the same – a mouthwatering, curated image that looked effortless and natural. Although the photograph looked simple and elegant, it took weeks of planning before execution.
When I started working in product design, I realized there is a similar approach when creating products. Research is an essential part of the process. Without it, we may miss crucial opportunities to help our users. This research process is necessary to create a meaningful and well-designed product.
“User-centered design means understanding what your users need, how they think, and how they behave – and incorporating that understanding into every aspect of your process” – Jesse James Garrett, Information Architect.
The research process is the foundation of understanding why we are building a product. It helps us uncover what problems we are trying to solve. During this time we analyze, interview, synthesize and create insights that will help identify how to improve the product. We must understand whom the product serves, how the product should work, and what needs it fulfills.
I have worked with clients who didn’t understand why the research process was needed. For example, some clients had done their own user interviews and felt they had enough research. So we shortened our research process and designed a product based on what the client thought the user would want. We made a prototype and shared it with several employees from the client’s company. Employee feedback proved that the product wasn’t meeting all the users’ needs. We learned from the employees that they wanted to see the content organized differently from what we had designed. As a result, we needed to take a step back and start again with our own research process, which inevitably cost the clients more time and money.
For another client’s project, we didn’t spend any time doing our research process. Instead, we went straight into building wireframes, which the client used for user-testing. User feedback indicated that the content in the wireframes was unclear. At this point, the client wanted to continue to use this same content and reorder it in the wireframes. So, we went ahead and restructured it only to realize it still was confusing. The client realized that no matter where the information was displayed, the message/information was still ambiguous. Our team needed to pivot back to our research process to best understand the audience and how to help them navigate the information. This generated insights that helped us provide clear information for users.
The research process continuously proves to be a valuable part of the design process. New questions arise that may take us down a path that needs to be explored. We can thoroughly examine this until we have the best solution.
Embracing the research process as an essential component to our design work will always lead to an intelligent and efficient product.