In July, we offered three installments on how to conduct design research, using Ziba's recent work with AIGA as an example. The objective was to develop a new vision of the future for the 100-year old AIGA, a membership-based professional association for designers of all stripes. Before that was possible, a thorough survey of the organization's current state was needed. What did existing members love best, and what could they do without? What was making new members join, and what kept long-standing members coming back?
Ziba's first step was a branded, participatory informational outreach called Project Medusa, which took the form of a video-driven workshop for all AIGA members across the country. In Part 1 back in Julyl, we explained four rules anyone can use to get ready to do great design research:
- Do Your Homework; Know Your Limits
- Once You Know Your Audience, Use the Right Tools for the Job
- Take (Good) Risks
- Learn to Love the Bias: If You Can't Beat 'Em, Join 'Em
Project Medusa itself was designed, branded and delivered as a "how-to," guiding each AIGA chapter to host a home-brewed information gathering. In the second installment, Part 2, we drilled down into the details of what made Medusa tick. The rules explained there can be applied to any participatory, group-think-enabling sort of meeting:
- Make sure everyone involved knows why they're participating. This can be handled neatly with your invitation, which also gives people time to have a bit of a think beforehand.
- Choose the right space. Then have that environment properly set up, with everything you'll need to succeed. Paper, pens, whiteboards, markers, sure... what about music? Snacks?
- State the rules of your engagement up front. Why can a group of strangers come together and enjoy a game of Monopoly? Because it has clear rules, parameters, and goals. Proper briefing is also essential in case everyone just accepted the invitation and didn't read it, or read it and forgot.
- Pace your activities, and balance writing, drawing, speaking, conversation and breaks.
- Take chances, as appropriate for your group. We've had good success with encouraging people to contribute as early as possible, as visually as possible—everyone can draw, even if it's only a stickman.
- Don't be afraid to "waste" some time on throw-away activities or even jokes... warming your group up will have an effect on the quality of the atmosphere as well as the results.
- Use strong reference points to help everyone get up to speed fast. (This goes back to your choice of theme.) Consider how relatable and believable each and every touchpoint along the way is.
- Take advantage of every channel that's appropriate: movies, music, physical activities, books, or thank you cards.
- Record everything: photos, audio, notes. Remember, there are no wrong answers, with this kind of research, so be sure to capture as much as you can.
- Finally, keep it simple, stupid is time-honored advice for good reason. By the time you've finished preparing, things should be so clear and concise that you could sit down and write up a quick-start guide to your research project.
Our third installment explained how Ziba made sense of all the information Medusa yielded, and provided methods for parsing the results of your own design research efforts. Medusa's responses—hundreds and hundreds of them, mailed in packets as varied as the groups of designers that put them together—gave us real personal information to sort, collect together by theme, frame up, and finally develop narratives from. It was these stories, polished to a high shine, that Ziba took to AIGA leadership to help them decide on a way forward.
At the end of Part 3, we mentioned that we'd addressed the last phase of design research. Well, that wasn't entirely true. We actually illustrated how not true it was, with the following double-diamond diagram:
So: halfway through. Creating narratives around insights sounds like a great conclusion, but it's not the last step of design research. What about the right-hand diamond? That's where everything we learned—contextualized, and coherently organized—gets put to work. In two final posts over the next two days, we will provide a closer look at the tools Ziba used as this design research project neared conclusion.