design research

I’m starting a new adventure, my MFA in Interaction Design. It’s so exciting to be taking the time to hone my craft. I have been a user experience designer for a few years now, and although I have experience in many of the classes I will be taking, it seemed I never had the time in projects to really polish the deliverables for clients. As you may relate, when you are on the clock, there’s often only enough time to get the damn thing done, and then move into the next phase of the project. And as you may also relate, design research is one of those areas that often gets short shrift, due to budgets and timelines. That said, I have been able to do a bit of research on a few projects, and it was not only informative, but a great deal of fun.
I worked on with Habanero Consulting Group. Amongst other activities, we conducted generative research in the restaurant with diners. Armed with gift cards, we approached diners just after they placed their orders, and requested their participation. We asked a series of questions, such as:

  • How often do you come to this restaurant?
  • Have you been to the website?
  • Why would you visit the website, and what would you expect to find there?
  • Have you ever tried online ordering? Why or why not?

From this process, we were able to define a few personas: families, sports teams, and “the regulars”. We also gathered valuable feedback on the main content diners were looking for: menus, locations and promotions. We heard some interesting anecdotes about ordering food online, which mostly revolved around trust and accuracy. All of the information gathered was invaluable when making design decisions for content later in the process, especially when working with client stakeholders.
I worked on with nonlinear creations last summer. We were responsible for phase one, to aggregate three sources of information into one search interface. Design research, in this process, was more evaluative in nature, as we had to test how well existing information sources could provide information for three particular audiences: the general public, clinicians and caregivers. We worked with a recruitment agency to find appropriate people, and then developed a test script to review a medical database, existing AHS websites, and best-in-class examples, such as the NHS in Great Britain, with the participants. Through usability testing, we were able to discover what worked, but more importantly, what didn’t work. It was important to see how one participant struggled to find information about breast cancer, and then imagine how this struggle could amplify the stress of someone who may be seriously ill. In the design phase, we acted on this knowledge to improve the parts that were broken.

Design research provides an opportunity to connect with the people that will eventually use your designs. I have been lucky to have some experience in this realm, but I am looking forward to trying other techniques, such as participatory design, as a way to understand the situation and possible responses. I am also extremely curious about research synthesis, and am hoping for a bit more space and time in school for this part of the process.