Thursday, July 30, 2009

Design without research

This article was in the Interactions magazine. It is a two part article. The jyst of the article is the author begging the question, how far do we take user feedback? What lengths should designers go to in order to get user feedback and incorporate usability results? The author makes the point to keep it in perspective. Designers don't always have to go out and get extensive user feedback.

Part I of the article concludes:
"Like everything else in design and research (often overlapping terms that I’ve avoided specifying here), the answer to “design without research?” is, it depends. Among other factors, it depends on how much we already know about our customers (perhaps through our own experience). It depends on what we hope to learn and how we want to use that learning to create action. It depends on where we are in the development timeline of a product or service, and whether the product or service is new, me-too, innovative, or a redesign. It depends on business constraints like time to market, the maturity of the category, and the cost to evolve the design. No doubt it depends on other things as well. What do you think it depends on?"

Part II of the article makes the point that I would strongly agree with that when presenting design alternatives or business concepts to users in order to get feedback, it is important to give the concept you are presenting the best presentation possible. Meaning, the design alternatives are the most accurate representation of the concept you are getting feedback on. He summarizes the article with the following:
"When we’re using research to understand whether or not a concept is going to address people’s needs, we need design to create the best representation of that concept, and we need design to translate the output from that research into the next iteration of that concept. We can conclude that research needs design, before and after. Rather than treat research and design as separate activities (sometimes performed by siloed departments or vendors), I would encourage all the stakeholders in the product development process to advocate for an integrated approach in which design activities and research activities are tightly coordinated and aligned."

For the full articles, visit the following links:
Part 1:
Part 2:


  1. Andrea, this is a interesting post and I guess it goes beyond the walls of HCI. Being a requirements "person" this concept is my pet peeve..if you will. I guess I have seen instances where you design based on historical knowledge, but designing based on assumptions about the user? Is that what this is saying? What if you do research and find out that what you've spent time and money is useless? I agree that the research process doesn't end even if you have "wonderful" user feedback. But to go at it alone so to speak in the beginning..seems risky. Am I reading this the right way?

  2. I am in the same boat with Teia. If I know some things about a design of particular system than average Joe then it seems very much waist of time doing getting some feedback from those who are not familiar with. But at the same time, if any design must be created, it is best to do ethnographic study to understand requirements.

    I am reading Don Norman’s “Emotional Design” right now. In this book there is a section about Design by Committee vs. an individual. This blog post reminded this section of the book. Design is evaluated as subjective. That’s the same for arts, music, and performance.

    He quoted Henry Lieberman, a research scientist at the MIT Media Lab. Basically it says perfect user-centered design will lack artistry.
    Norman says if you want a great product, a design has to be driven by someone with a clear vision, and “it is a only path to greatness”.

    A designer has to bring "creative" into design to make things better and something radically different from what ordinary people would think.


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