Design Research

with Erika Hall

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Team Effort

How to build collaborative teams for research.

Erika Hall

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

Lessons Learned

Research is collaborative for the design and development team to jointly participate in.

A business needs design from the beginning.

Design is not separate function; you need it from the beginning.


Lesson: Design Research with Erika Hall

Step: #8 Team Effort: How to build collaborative teams for research

Because we work with a wide variety of organizations, the clients who come to us have the full range of experience with and attitudes towards research as a part of the design process. Sometimes they really do think like, "Oh, I'm hiring you because you're the people who will draw pictures for us," and if that's what they're hiring us to do then they're way overpaying.

We solve business problems for people. It's up to us, and this is something we've become at Mule very familiar and experienced and comfortable with, is drawing a line back from you're hiring us because you want this outcome and this outcome might be more customers. This outcome might be more respect in the industry.

The outcome might be a more robust feature set that allows your customers to do this set of things that somehow makes you more money.

Once we've established that, once we've established that what they're hiring us to do is really important to their business, then it's pretty straightforward to walk back to, well, we need to find out if what you're saying about who your customers are, why they're coming to you, why they might choose some other solution over yours, we have to make sure all that is true.

These days it's a lot more likely that a client would come to us and say, "Oh, we've already done all that homework. We hired a market research consulting group or we did some internal surveys."

We just have to make it very clear that all of that is an input to our process, and we'll take it and we'll take as much as we can, but we have to understand the problem for ourselves. We have to ask our own questions to do the work that we've been hired to do, and as a part of that we have to share that with our client.

It's not just that we understand the problem, a key output of our research process is a shared understanding and that's one of the reasons why I advocate a really collaborative research process.

Some researchers, especially people who come out of a more academic background that's more competitive among researchers and researchers themselves are competing to be published or to be associated with a particular type of research or to have that expertise.

That doesn't help the things I'm talking about either because we want everybody on our team to participate. I want people to start thinking of research as a collaborative activity that the whole design and development team can do together and participate in so that everybody has that same understanding.

Anybody who's making a decision about the design, whether it's a manager, whether it's a developer, whether it's an interface designer, needs to be working from the same set of information and the same set of priorities and decisions.

The designer Founder is another one of those trendy buzz words I've been hearing a lot lately. I think it's not, the degree to which… What design means to the kind of business you're trying to start and the skills that you need on your founding team are very individual to the kind of company you're starting.

Again, it's the same thing, it's like, lean UX or one of those buzz words where people want that silver bullet, that magic answer, like "Oh, if I just do things in this way, then my start-up will be successful."

I think that points out how much of a roulette table the start-up scene is these days. It's like, oh, I just need a designer to blow on my dice. I realize there's no dice in roulette, but what I'm advocating for is having a lot of clarity about what you as a Founder, and entrepreneur or investor are trying to accomplish.

What the opportunities are, what the challenges are and what you need to accomplish that, and that's going to vary. The kind of design you need, what design means to you as a business is very, very different depending on what you're trying to do.

I think you can conceptualize starting a business as part of the design process. You are designing your business. All design is, again, is solving a problem according to a particular plan based in certain information.

So when you talk about design, if you're talking about like, a when should I have a logo or when should I have an interface, that really, again, depends on what you need to have happen in the world. The design is just a part of that. I try to really encourage people not to split out design as something special.

There was a phrase that was going around in the business press a few years ago, the ROI of design as though design is something different you invest in, like building a factory. I don't know.

Design isn't separate. I think that's the most important change I'd like to see is, you don't think about design as a totally separate function. It would be like oh, what's the ROI of bookkeeping? When should my business have bookkeeping? It's from the beginning.

It's like, when should my business have design? Well, from the beginning, but what shape that takes, you should think of in terms of, well, what problem are you trying to solve, what skills do you need to solve that problem, and that's all a design process.

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