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Dreyfuss is the first designer who came to mind when I started thinking about
design research inspiration for our June 2012 “Breakthroughs” webinar with Lokion Interactive vice president of interaction design Shiloh Barnat and Adobe expert Sharma Hendel. But there are many other sources.
I love the work of IDEO and use their amazing Human-Centered Design Toolkit when introducing students to design
research. I’ve also found inspiration via academic institutions such as
Stanford University’s d.School and this great video on user interview techniques from the Illinois Institute of Technology.
Rosenfeld Media also has great literature on design research; you’ll learn a
lot by reading Indi Young's Mental Models: Aligning Design Strategy With Human
Behavior. If you ever have a chance to take one of her seminars, I highly recommend
There are a couple of analogies I like to use when articulating design research
as a framework. One—as mentioned during the webinar—is by using theatrical
metaphors. Contextual inquiry and mental models provide the stage and backdrop,
users are like actors, and stories and scenarios are the script. But another
good way to frame design research is through a journalistic lens: design, like
journalism, is about telling stories, and designers, like journalists, are
looking for the Five W’s and One H: Who, What, Where, When, Why and How. Who are
these people we’re designing for? Where are they from? Where will they be using
our designs? When will they be using them? Why and how? Design research aims to
answer these questions.
Shiloh presented various methods for doing this: Contextual Inquiry and User
Interviews provide robust, personalized information about human desires and
behavior around a specific activity, lending insight into the entire research
process; Personas and Mental Models bring information and data gleaned
from interviews to life, telling us “Who” by putting faces and names
to users. Stories + Scenarios provide the What, When, Where, Why, and How,
detailing the necessary context in which products are used. Experience Maps
bring all of these elements together over time, providing designers a succinct
model of the entire user experience involving a product, from touchpoint to
For those who asked how to build design research skills, there are ways to take
any of these tools and apply them to civic projects. Getting involved with Code for America or AIGA’s Design for Good program would be good places to start. I would also recommend looking at continuing
education programs at local universities or community colleges that focus on
design research skills. For example, my alma mater, the University of
Washington in Seattle, offers a User-Centered Design certificate program.
Our webinar was only an hour though, and design research is a broad topic. There are
many other design research strategies, philosophies and methodologies to
explore. To get you started, we compiled a list of resources for you. Happy
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