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  • Richard Hewitt

DESIGN RESEARCH – Critical for digital product idea validation & exploration. Here’s why...

“17% of large IT projects go so badly that they can threaten the very existence of the company”. - McKinsey & Co., in conjunction with the University of Oxford

“66% of all IT projects fail” - Project Journal

“9 out of 10 start-ups fail, with 42% failing due to lack of a market need for their product”. - CB Insights


These imposing statistics underline just how critical full and thorough due-diligence and research is for any digital product. It’s important. Yet they equally underline how chronically overlooked and disregarded idea validation all too often is.

Does your target market truly need your product?

Is the problem perceived to be so serious as to justify seeking a solution?

Needs form the basic building blocks of idea exploration and validation – however in a world where digital products and platforms are now so ingrained in our lives, it’s no longer enough for there to simply be a need. Ideas must be explored and validated on a whole new, more comprehensive level – ensuring that the ways in which problems are solved are intuitive, user-centric and seamless. For this, there is design research. Ignore it at your peril.

The defining differences between market research and design research

At the heart of any market is a human, and at its most fundamental level design research and digital product development strips back products to reveal that. They initially disregards specifications and tech specifics to simply focus on the user - their experience and their interactions. In this way design research hones in on utility, rather than focusing on a primary goal of financials (as market research does).

Studying the unmet/perceived needs in the market, as well as the fulfilled needs, could be met better. Testing the waters in order to refine a product from a potentially (albeit advanced) ugly duckling, into a graceful swan that fits seamlessly with the consumers of the product will reap rewards as well as reduce the risk of entering the market.

Design research replaces the logic of market research, with empathy; switches data and analytics with experiences and artefacts. In every way it is closer to the end user – filled with qualitative data that defined experiences, feelings and interactions.

Idea exploration and validation – Guiding choices and influencing a product

Design research should significantly shape an idea – going beyond merely answering the question as to whether there’s a need, to provide a picture of clarity as to how the underlying problem can influence product features and user experience.

Whilst in other realms the advice of launching with something quickly, and developing the solution in the process, is better than launching with nothing until some years later, it has to be said that the tech realm is entirely different. Average project and start-up costs are inherently higher than those in other industries and what’s more, reputation is on the line. A tech product that even slightly misses the mark may not get a second chance as potential for mockery and dissatisfaction can today spread like wild fire across social networks and forums.

A meeting of juxtapositions and an impartial perspective

There is a problem that must be solved. This much you know. But between the problem and your solution, lies humans and just as your consumers should be considered as such, so too must those in your team. Your devs are focused on technicalities, IT challenges, bugs and coding to protect users from their own unknowingly dangerous actions. Your branding teams are honed in on shaping an identity that resonates with your audience – and creating a positive consumer perception. Finally, there are your UX techies – who are most involved in that element most closely sits next to design research, yet their viewpoint is fragmented not on the problem ultimately solved, but how to present their solution is the best way possible.

This puts every department into its own corner. In the middle, should be your users, but due to the specialities of your experts, your users are often overlooked as each expert busies themselves on their dead-set tasks. Success in their roles, is not the same as successfully crafting a product idea that is validated. For this, there is design research.

Ultimately, when design research and digital product development is done right, the result is ground-breaking innovation and commercial success. When done badly, barely undertaken at all or completely overlooked, there remains uncertainty in the best case scenario, and an abject missing of the mark in the worst case.

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