Born of frustration
A couple of weeks ago I was fortunate to be invited to talk to The Cambridge Usability Group about the subject of my recent pocket guide for Five Simple Steps, interviewing for research. My thanks to everyone who gave up a rare sunny evening to come along and listen to my Glaswegian mumbling. It was great to see some familiar faces again and there were some really smart questions in the follow up after my talk.
In that talk, I covered something that isn’t in the book itself, and wanted to return to it here. Over recent years I’ve worked predominantly with agencies, both large and small. Interviewing for research was written not because I’ve had a careers-worth of magical research experiences or that I consider myself to be an extraordinary design researcher. It was born of frustration. Frustration at lack of commitment of some agencies to research itself. Frustration at a palpable lack of confidence in many of my fellow designers in how they approach and run research work, and in particular about how they use research in their work. Frustration at knowing just how much good research, used well, can energise a design team and light up a project.
As I’ve said in the book itself, at its worst, design research can be treated as a form of project theatre, there to add a veneer of respectability, an air of diligence. And the fault for that rarely lies with the client.
For me, interviewing represents the very best part of the job but I can understand why some are cynical about it. If you aren’t able to see evidence of its impact in the work itself or how the design team is working, then you’re liable to think of it as expensive, time-consuming and those other go-to reasons given for not running research when we should. And that’s where we as designers come in. If we don’t want research to be something carelessly sub-contracted or worse, overlooked altogether, we’ve a job to do in demonstrating its value. By involving the wider design team in the research itself; by sharing what we find and making it tangible; by resisting the temptation to turn it into a dead deliverable, but keeping it as an active design tool; by always looking for ways to keep the voices of our research participants alive in a design process.
I’ve described research as a privilege, but it’s a responsibility too.