As we launch our 2020 survey we unpack why research (and empathy) deserve a deeper focus.

Maite Otondo
Maite Otondo
31st March 2020

Last year our survey found that almost all of the design teams that don’t contribute to their organisation’s goals are only doing small pockets of research or none at all.

There’s a small number of design teams who are conducting research at least regularly but are unable to translate those efforts into business results. A closer look at our data showed that most of the research these teams are doing is usability testing to validate their designs.

Usability testing can be a great step for less mature design teams to start engaging with their users due to its practical and visual nature. It can enrich their design process as it allows them to have a better understanding of the interaction between people and an interface. Then, designers can use that knowledge in order to evaluate, validate and/or improve their work. Recordings from testing sessions are also useful to show stakeholders and the wider organisation the value of engaging with end-users in the design process.

Although extremely valuable, evaluating a design is not enough if design teams want to make a greater impact on their organisation.

When we evaluate a design we mostly focus on how people fit into a product or service, not as much on the ways in which that product or service fits into the broader context of people. That means we get a narrow understanding of the relevance of our design in people’s context or might not even understand if it’s relevant at all.

This limits the ability of design teams to make decisions based on evidence and think critically and creatively about their product or service, beyond usability.

In order to better contribute to their organisation’s goals, design teams need to have a deeper understanding of their audiences and contexts. They need rich and relevant information about people, their behaviours, views, needs, goals, and the roles that products and services play for them.

As we learnt from our survey, the most effective design teams have integrated design and research capacities. Therefore, research should be a regular activity that informs design on different levels. Not just an evaluative activity.

At the same time, designers need to have a clear understanding of their organisation and its context. In this way, they’re better prepared to participate in strategic definitions that are impactful and valuable for both, business and people.

We have just launched our 2020 survey that builds on these findings - it should take around 10 minutes and we’d really appreciate adding your voice and sharing with your wider team.