This post discusses the importance of research in a design process and some of the research methodologies which can be used to better understand how to create designs which are liked and properly connoted by a target audience.
What differentiates the process of becoming a designer or an artist from many other professions is that you can’t become a great designer only by education. It is true that you can learn about the technicalities of Photoshop by reading some books, but it will take you years working with Photoshop before you can call yourself a Photoshop pro. And also, you won’t understand how bad you were at image editing when started out until years down the road when you look back at old work realizing that you hadn’t a clue about what you were doing back then.
The real key to creating designs which are liked and properly connoted by a target audience, however, comes neither from education or work experience, but from doing your homework and firmly ground your work in research. It simply doesn’t matter how great you are as a designer per se, if the designs you create do not solve the core problem and is liked and properly understood by the target audience. Hence; research is the real key to becoming a great designer.
Below is presented some of the most common methodologies of research which designers can use to build a better understanding of how to create designs which are liked and properly connoted by a target audience.
Experimental research is an important method to understand how design influence feelings, decisions, and actions, which is crucial within many creative fields to understand how to design products, websites, architecture and marketing assets which are functional, understood and appreciated by the target audience.
Is the appreciation of design and art something you are born with or is the perception of beauty something you learn by integrating with other members of your society and which also is affected by life experiences? To scientifically answer such questions you need to perform a longitudinal study where you collect data of participants taste and values over many years
If you want to find out what a distinct target audience think about a design at this moment; the most accurate method, of course, would be to ask everyone in that group about their opinion. If the target audience consists of millions of people, though, asking the opinion of everyone in that census would in most cases not be practically possible. A common method in such cases, therefore, is only to ask the question to a statistically significant portion of a total census (the population cross section) and from that smaller share conclude the whole population.
Are adverts with sales offers more efficient if they have a red background or can a blue color be as effective? A case study is performed to understand a particular subject which is researched and analyzed in-depth.
In simple terms, action research can be described as “learning by doing.” A designer might identify a problem such as that people in an airport have difficulties to locate the toilets. By experimenting with different font sizes on the toilet signs and measuring how the size of the font correlates to the number of questions the airport staff gets about where the toilets are located; the designer might be able to conclude a perfect font size for airport toilet signs.
In ethnographic research, the researcher interacts with the population in their natural setting over a prolonged period, observing and collecting data. If a researcher, for example, wants to understand why Swedish people (I am Swedish) in June and July tend to buy more beer from brands that sell their beer in blue cans; he or she might need to live in Sweden for some time and integrating with culture to understand this phenomenon.
Participatory research is a method where members of a group actively cooperate in performing a study. If for example, the staff in the airport example above as a group gets tired on getting constantly asked on the way to the toilets, they might have decided to take action into their own hands, testing different colors, sizes, and locations of the signs.
Does gender inequalities to some extent stem from the fact that more men work as graphic designers than women and that a majority of adverts published in media, consequently, is created by men? Feminist research are founded in the perspectives of feminist values and beliefs.
Grounded theory begins with data collection, coding, and analysis before a hypothesis is concluded and tries to answer the question: “What really is going in on here, and how?”
Let’s say that staff at the airport discussed above complain to the management that too many people ask for the way to the toilets. No one understands why as there are signs everywhere. The person who get assigned to figure out why might then take a chair and simply sit down in the hallway of the airport watching people to figure out why they have such a hard time to find their way to the toilet. After making notes of his or her observations, some interviews are performed with visitors as well as the staff. By analyzing the collected data, the researcher might then conclude that the problem is the color of the signs which are very similar to the signs leading to the airport chapel. As the interviews showed, most people who noted the toilet signs simply though: gosh, this airport really have many chapels.
This post has discussed some of the most common methodologies of research which can be used to build a better understanding of how to most efficiently create designs which are liked and properly connoted by a target audience. As there is no such thing as a “universal” research methodology suitable for any project, though; designers should build an understanding, not only of each methodology of research presented in this paper, but also of other less common methods and systems of research.