At User Centric (now GfK's User Experience group), our user experience consultants possess a variety of skills and diverse backgrounds. Some of us avow our allegiance to research, while some profess our loyalty to design. But should we really be standing on one side of the line or the other? What are the real differences between the two? More to the point, don’t research and design happen simultaneously? If the focus is to improve user experiences, then the field really needs both.
Let’s take a step back and establish what I mean by “research” and “design.” When you boil it down, it’s pretty simple.
Research = understand
Design = create
Furthermore, research is about understanding the current state, whereas design is about creating a future state. These two work great together and the relationship is a symbiotic one. Research to understand what is and then design to create what could be. Rinse and repeat.
Perhaps you’re thinking to yourself… “Hey, I’m a researcher and it’s natural for me to play a part in creating what might be.” Or, “I’m a designer and I don’t design without understanding the current state of things.” At least I hope you’re thinking this, because it’s precisely my point.
To be truly successful in improving any user experience, research and design must work in tandem, in parallel, concurrently. Rather than throwing research over the wall, it is critical for UX professionals to be thinking like a researcher and like a designer throughout their process. For example, in the discovery phase, it is important to understand what users are experiencing now (research), but also attempt to understand what might be, what could be (design). Similarly, during ideation and concept development (design), it is important to preserve the research findings and continue to reference them.
So, why is it that so many UX professionals insist on putting themselves in a box? I have an inkling it has something to do with the varying ways that we define research and design. I’m also guessing that in order to retain a semblance of order in what we do, it’s a lot easier to compartmentalize the two.