HOW design conference
It's often necessary to validate most business decisions, but never has proof been as demanding as it is with design. Design is still construed as a very arbitrary, hippy-dippy discipline and nothing gets the goat of a designer more than having to explain time and again that there are indeed standards for design. Enter the Designer's Guide to Research, courtesy of the HOW Design Conference presented by power couple, Jenn and Ken Visocky O'Grady, founders of Enspace, a creative think tank that works to enhance collaboration and communication among designers, writers and marketers, alike. We, the collective designers in attendance, learned about the research methods and practical design applications that aim to help our clients better understand the strategy behind designs, as well as their validity.

Why design research?

The wacky world in which we live is full of juxtapositions. While the perceived value of design has increased, thanks to the likes of smooth design by Target and Apple, the monetary compensation for designers, sad to say, has remained static. Add to this, the availability of cheap alternatives that promise design for low prices and it's no wonder designers need to prove their merit.

Why research?

As technology advances and the need for communication is global, clients want assurance that designers understand business issues and will deliver a return of investment. Designers must learn to adapt and learn to speak the language that will make them understood -- sadly, this language is not DesignSpeak.By applying traditional research methodology to the process of graphic design, a designer can position herself as a strategic consultant -- a title well known in the business world.

The Big 6: Thinking about Thinking

By understanding the differences between research that is qualitative and quantitative; primary and secondary formative and summative, designers can be well on their way to explaining not only the relevance but the significance of their designs. Jenn and Ken describe their process according to the Big 6, a way of "Thinking about Thinking"* Task definition: What are you working towards?* Develop search strategies: How are we going to do it? How can you do it in an efficient manner?* Location + access: Where is the information? Who's involved? How can you access them?* User information: Compare notes, Triangulation/Convergence of data.* Synthesis: Applying convergence of data; designing based upon research.* Evaluation process and products: Learning from mistakes, what can we learn from it; tracking its success. Now you, the humble designer have just become an ethnographer. Skilled in a way that allows you to link human behavior to culture, you are able to find where these points converge. Finding common themes among published studies, user behavior and demographics will guide you towards a viable solution that will have your clients giddy and gleeful. Not only will they be impressed by the level of your information literacy -- the way you are able to organize, evaluate, synthesize and integrate all this research into your design concepts -- you will be more confident that your design is in fact the sensible and accurate solution for the client.