I participated on 20.8.2020 in an online event focusing on design research. The event was hosted by Reach Network‘s Bas Raijmakers and featured a panel discussion with two experienced service design professionals Geke van Dijk from STBY and Babitha George from Quicksand, both part of the Reach Network organization.
Both Van Dijk and George discussed their projects, the craft of design research and what it takes to succeed in their field, with an active participation from other participants.
Iterative process instead linear
The design research process of Reach Network is described as more iterative than linear. New ideas often come up during fieldwork, so quick adaptation is key. The process starts with immersion phase where they usually study people in their own environments. Afterwards in insight creation the design researchers identify problem spots and opportunity areas. Last phase of idea generation includes workshops, brainstorming and modeling of strongest ideas.
George started the discussion by explaining a project she had been working with which dealt with public healthcare in India. She discussed the difficulties of when dealing with an intimate, hard topic and how to overcome these obstacles. She mentioned that the ability to adapt your methods and getting people comfortable were vital, for instance using hypothetical scenarios instead of asking direct, intimate questions for a softer approach. She listed building trust and offering a judgement-free-zone as key to the success in her project.
Both George and van Dijk discussed the importance of design research. They were asked during the panel discussion on how to get clients to understand the importance of design research and pay for design research. They emphasized that when design research is done right, it is very informative and helps with implementation longevity. Engaging with stakeholders and having a thorough, mutual understanding and clear communication is vital.
Qualitative research vs. design research
The panelists briefly talked about differences of qualitative research and design research. With design research, you have creativity included and you’re always looking for opportunities. It’s rich in storytelling and bringing a design aspect via persona posters and images from field, for example.
A participant in the event asked for tips on how to transfer complex data to a more understandable, audience friendly format. George and van Dijk mentioned that having key insights, summaries and lots of illustrations is a good starting point. They emphasized finding a balance with complexity and clear storytelling because you also don’t want to lose the richness of your findings.
The art of the craft
The panelists discussed the craft of design research and what it takes to succeed in their field. Design research is about constantly reiterating and customizing your methods. It requires a lot of experience and openness to learn new. It’s about learning of complexities but also keeping things simple. “It’s about constantly zooming in and out”, one panelist explained.
The needed skills include observation, conversation, creative listening, ability to adapt, motivation to always learn new things, but also being reflective and self critical of own biases. It’s not just about learning tricks of different tools but learning the craft and adapting those tools to own projects.
During the panel discussion, it was mentioned that design research is much like the Netflix documentary “Jiro Dreams of Sushi”, which featured Jiro Ono, an 85-year-old sushi master in Tokyo and his relentless pursuit of perfection, who even after three Michelin stars was always striving to be better.
In a way, a design researcher is never finished with learning their craft but instead always reiterating and customizing their approach.
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