As design challenges grow in complexity and ambiguity, the ability to understand people—not just data about them—is essential to developing human-centered solutions that address the nuances of human behavior and their specific needs. This understanding becomes particularly paramount when we are designing for a group of people that we are unfamiliar with, such as people with disabilities, people living in extreme socio-economic realities or people from other cultures. To empathize and truly understand their needs, we must talk to them, interact with them, observe them, spend time with them, to see and experience the world like they do. Quick exercises with your team members (if you are a designer) or other students (if you are a student) will not give you these insights.
It is encouraging to receive each week many questions and comments from students and design colleagues about design research and how they can start working with a more evidence-based and human-centered approach. Particularly, questions are about how to use, what I call, the basic four qualitative, field research methods: observations, interviews, workshops, and diary studies. If you gain familiarity with these methods, you can design and conduct any research study.
In the next days, I will publish a series of posts explaining how to use these methods to inform the design process (with special attention to information design work). I will share a few exercises to gain confidence designing research studies and going into the field. And I will give suggestions to use these methods online, as due to COVID-19 restrictions, conducting field research has become challenging.
For more in-depth guidance on how to use field research in design practice, check out my book.