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Friday, March 16, 2007

Research is a method

Dan Saffer of Adaptive Path writes well on "research as a method, not a methodology".

One of the reasons designers are hired is their expertise — those “good guesses” — part of which comes from knowing what works in most situations, and what doesn’t. It could be argued that this expertise (which is made up of intuition, experience, understanding and taste) is more important than an understanding of users. I’m not sure I want to go that far, but I have decided that there is a more reasonable approach than the dogma that research has to be included on every project. Evidence that is all around us, from the humble fork to the lauded iPod, proves that this dogma simply is not true.


It could be argued that these “Only When” guidelines I just outlined apply to every design project and every designer. Which is true, to a degree. Who, for instance, doesn’t need inspiration and empathy?

But I want to shift assumptions about research: Namely, stop thinking of it as a necessary approach to design and start thinking of it as just a helpful tool. Saying that research is required for every project would be like saying that all projects need wireframes or content analyses, which just isn’t the case. Yes, research is good for many types of projects (as outlined above), but it isn’t always a necessity.

As Jesse pointed out, “Research can help us improve our hunches. But research should inform our professional judgment, not substitute for it.” Like other tools in the designer’s toolbox, research should be used only when necessary, not applied to every project unthinkingly.

Click through to read his full article and find out the details on when to use research. It makes a whole lot of sense to me. I recently read FastCompany's March edition and the piece on the trading tool for the NYSE is a case in point where research was required to get the design to be accepted and functional by the traders.

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