• 19 March 2018

    Research in Design

    Research in design is often seen as a hurdle, a blocker — a step that slows down the rush of ideas that designers experience when they are presented with a problem.

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    Using design tools: Mapping

    I find that as soon as I recognise an opportunity or problem, probable solutions almost simultaneously arise in my head. As tempting as it is to have conviction in your ideas that spring from blue sky thinking, I cannot stress enough the depth of impact one’s designs can have if they are truly rooted in insights.

    I’ve been working with my teammates on identifying opportunities in the domain of education and learning environments. We’re working towards encouraging collaboration and participatory learning through the use of technology. Having come a long way since the first exploration, we are currently fine tuning our proposed concept. But here are some quick notes I’d like to share about what I’ve learnt about design research through this project:

    It’s okay to start with nothing

    We began with a blank canvas, not sure of the direction we were heading in, and more importantly, not knowing what we wanted to find out. The first big revelation was realising how little we knew about our subject of interest.


    Activity mapping

    The activity map helped us identify points of relevance. We now knew what information to seek.

    Asking isn’t the best way of finding out:

    I hate questionnaires. Surveys and quantitative questions surely help you get a look at the big picture, and understand behaviour and choices on a level of scale; but I’m not particularly crazy about surveys. They’re important but not the only method to rely on. Asking usually results in superficial answers not revealing the reasons behind preferences. In fact, people often don’t open up in formal settings.

    The same research questions can be addressed in more creative ways. Creating an environment of ease and trust can change the quality of answers.

    Observation, shadowing, role playing, group discussions, media scans and interviews reap much more meaningful information that eventually inspire solutions.


    We played spin the bottle with kids to make them comfortable

    We played spin the bottle in to make the kids feel comfortable and get answers at the same time.

    Read between the lines:

    Respondents don’t always mean what they say. It takes empathy and curiosity to interpret opinions shared by respondents. For example, a respondent may say ‘I don’t like History’. What he may really mean is he doesn’t enjoy memorising in school. It would be wrong to assume this correlation. What I encourage is further probing and using creative ways to find out the whys behind what they share.

    Insights and last thoughts:

    Insights may seem obvious in hindsight, but experiencing them first hand really drives ideas. There’s nothing more inspiring than understanding context. There were countless times where just seeing the environment, observing the way people behave triggered ideas that we otherwise wouldn’t have thought of.


    Insights and ideas derived