Design Research

with Erika Hall

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Genius Design

What is the role and reality of

Erika Hall

Co-Founder of Mule Design, Author, Research & Design Expert

Lessons Learned

Genius design is design without reference to research or the user.

Fallacy of genius design is that design benefits from accumulated experience and info.

Myth: Steve Jobs did not believe in research. Myth: Apple does not do research.


Lesson: Design Research with Erika Hall

Step: #10 Genius Design: What is the role and reality of "genius design"?

Genius Design is a phrase that some people use to describe design without reference to research or to the user. It's essentially the designer sitting down, or the group of designers sitting down and coming up with a solution to a problem based on their own expertise and based on their own knowledge.

I think the fallacy of genius design, is that anybody who is capable of sitting down and coming up with a really excellent solution to a problem or really excellent new product, is probably the beneficiary of their own expertise, which is accumulated research over years.

If I were to sit down and design something that's the solution to a problem that I've encountered many, many times before, I've already done the research. In many cases the research might be banked and so I'd say, "Well, maybe I could do that."

I wouldn't say that it wasn't research-based design. I'd say, that, well, it's based on knowledge that I already accumulated.

Research is just accumulating that knowledge and if it's knowledge you already have, that counts, too. It's just you can't just sit down and say, "Okay, with no knowledge. Tabula rasa just through my own magical unicorn powers, I'm going to come up with something that really meets the needs of the real world." That would involve being psychic.

A company that does research really well is Apple, of course. Unfortunately because of a comment Steve Jobs made 10 or 15 years ago about focus groups and how you can't focus group your way to a good product, there's a myth that Steve Jobs didn't believe in research and that Apple doesn't do research.

Apple is an incredibly controlled and secretive organization and they're very strategic about their communications. So they have this aura of genius design, and we just think of these things.

If you go back to Steve Jobs in his early career, he talks about the importance of knowing the customer, and understanding the competitors, and all of these things. When you look at their products, it's very obvious that they're interested in how these products fit into people's lives, and how these products make people feel.

Even their marketing messages are really incredibly effective because they hit people in a very emotional place, as well as a very practical place and seem to reflect the priorities and interest, and desires of real people. They do a tremendous amount of research that you never hear about, because that's really all of their trade secrets.

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