Design practice makes perfect

Evidence gained from research is powerful. It can persuade the most stubborn board members if presented in a way where decisions can be made based on facts. Data is also very easy to understand from different perspectives, it is the tangible, cold hard numbers that make it easy for decision makers to trust and react upon.

Ethnographic studies and user testing also give a qualified set of opinions to go on – who would argue with the voice of the customer? Especially if the risk of ignoring opinions only get amplified through social networks. For business, the value of UCD can be seen in exploring hypotheses backed up by quantitative and qualitative research.

Making from gathering

However the disconnect between design research and design practice is a problem and a difficulty in the discipline of UX that needs to be addressed if the profession is not to descend into the deliverables business. Production of meaningless documentation is a trap that consultancies fall into to boost their role in a project. There are various companies who base their business around user testing or research through ethnography. It’s a viable way to make money but unfortunately business value may not be derived from their results if their client does not have synthesisers on hand to interpret and take action on results.

The synthesis between analysing research and creating design is critical in terms of the quality of the execution and also the efficiency (in time and cost) of getting there. The effectiveness of the synthesizing of the research data is down to the experience of the designer, their toolbox and design environment. Whether a company either has the internal culture or the right design agency will affect these results.

There is another reason that design will always trump research. Research is based in the past, on findings that have been retrieved from the wild at a specific point in time. Design is practiced in the present but the aim is to deliver solutions for the future. Therefore innovation exists in the practical activity of design, or the making of the solution. It needs to be seen as the most important activity within the field of UX, not downplayed but championed.

Remember UX is User Centred Design

A problem with UX is that so much emphasis has been placed on the tools, that the art of producing great designs is becoming lost amongst the user tests and evaluations. For prospective clients and other domains this focus on the human condition seems too academic or removed from their reality. However the target audience's reality is essential to deliver the right experience that we wish to give to a prospective customer. They are the change agents that we depend upon to push through what we design.

But efficiency can only really be achieved with experienced designers well versed in UCD techniques. To know the difference of being led-by and being informed by the user (and acting on that decision through design work) is core to providing value to any business. They seek innovation execution through designers but they will also find designers will automatically tackle business problems through their design work.

Analysis should never start as an activity without sufficient levels of translation and comprehension from the designers who will create the end product. The optimal method is for designers to conduct the research, and experience the needs and want of a user first-hand and then to make the solution. No matter what size an organisation, it should facilitate this type of working practice. Lack of communication at critical points in a project will result in a failure for the user and the business.

Listen, think, build

Optimization, concept creation and execution on innovative ideas can all be handled and explored by key members of UX design teams. Considered product development with an investment in research and the design tools to be innovative, creates real business value.

Design thinking is one thing but design doing is a far more powerful act for business. A necessary part of this act is to gain real insights from user (or customer) research but then go into rapid production with the ability to iterate the design as the product is being built.

The real benefit of research and design is the ability to create innovative solutions for the companies by being able to act upon the research – innovation happens because there is an ability to follow through with idea generation. The effectiveness in executing is as essential for innovative companies as their ability to ship products.

The iterative nature of design and the need to collaborate with many different disciplines also ensures practical application. Holistic solutions can only occur with a team with a broad skillset, and an eye on the bigger picture.

But most importantly designers need to be researchers who have empathetic understanding of the human condition before they open their toolbox.

Reaching for innovation

If you are in a design process where this doesn’t occur ask yourself could it? What is stopping your organisation from designing this way and do you feel secure that your current approach is the best way?

If you are a client or product owner you can ask these questions to gauge how your agency or internal team may reach that innovative solution you are searching for.

1. How is the agency or team organised and how do they produce work? A collaborative physical environment and multi-disciplinary teams are essential to allow your ambitions to fulfilled.
2. Are the people you meet those who will make your product or service solution?
3. Do they have a codified method for the work they do which they can candidly talk about without the need of a slide deck?
4. Are they credible and authoritative in what they say?