Earlier this month, I went to the 11th annual Design Research Conference in Chicago. With a reputation for having a mix of solid speakers and workshop sessions, I was excited to meet other design researchers from around the world and share notes on planning and carrying out research activities, as well as making sense of data and communicating what was learned. The students at Illinois Institute of Technology did a fantastic job organizing and hosting the conference, with careful attention to the details.
One of my favourite details was the nametag wall, where you could find your nametag and replace it with a photo of yourself that they took during registration. The wall allowed attendees to have a visual point of reference for remembering who they had met, which is helpful for those who have a hard time remembering both faces and names (I fall into that group).
Designers and their use of post-its on walls was an enthusiastically discussed idea in Sociology Professor Dr. Christena Nippert-Eng’s talk on things she’s learned and appreciated from working with designers. Being a Design Research conference, the organizers allotted wall space for attendees to capture nuggets of thinking and ideas that emerged over the two days. It was a great example of how using walls to capture and organize ideas, with the help of an entire group, can speed up the process of aggregating sharp thinking going on in the air.
The top nuggets I pulled out were:
In our teams and in working with our clients, we take the time to frame research questions so that we can choose appropriate methods and activities to answer those questions. While quantitative research and qualitative research can very well complement each other, qualitative research can help design more tightly focused quantitative research, so there is less likelihood of getting lost in data haze:
As one of my favourite presenters, Elliott Hedman, provocatively said, “Small data is sexy.”
Small data, or the depth of understanding you can get from qualitative research for your people, their behaviour, their context, etc. can help you uncover social norms or cultural values that impact how you deliver customer experiences and position your brand.
In short, small data that goes deep into what people are thinking, feeling and valuing in their lives can help inject empathy into a team and lead to design decisions that speak to customers’ deep needs.
Quantitative research can help you validate and generalize those insights, which could involve prototype testing with a wider group of people.
The attendees were an insightful and eclectic bunch. One of my favourite conversations was with Michelle Chow, a member of the lululemon athletica team. In addition to offering me a glimpse into the culture at one of our homegrown Canadian retailers, she told me about how lululemon places stores at the centre of their customer experience: “It’s where the magic happens,” said Michelle. In place of a head office, they operate a team called store support, where the focus is on helping stores deliver the best possible experience to customers.
While I could write for hours about the talks at this conference, one framework that is still marinating in my mind plotted types of research on two axes, presented by Mayo Clinic’s Matt Gardner (re-sketched from my memory below):
Lastly, the organizers partnered with some of Chicago’s food trucks to coordinate lunch on our second day. It was definitely a nice way to get a literal taste of the local culture.