What is Research Design and How it Can Elevate Your Product

Egor Zavyalov
DESIGN PRACTICE LEAD
Serhii Misnikas
LEAD DESIGNER
Daria Iaskova
COMMUNICATIONS MANAGER

As a product executive, you know a lot about your customers and their needs. But are you sure you know enough to deliver impactful solutions and outpace competitors?

According to a study by CB Insights, 35% of new businesses fail to succeed as the market simply didn’t need their product. The other 20% go outcompeted. Understanding end users’ real needs and aspirations and finding a solution for bridging a gap between them is a must for your product's success.

For years of successful partnerships with businesses of different scales and directions, we know that delivering impact is only possible if all aspects of a user’s lifestyle, behavior, and mindset are taken into account. Luckily, there is a tool in place for that, and its name is research design.

What is research design?

Research design is a set of means that allow a product team to understand consumer needs and aspirations and further address them via a product created or features introduced.

Among the typical research design methods are focus groups, surveys, and in-depth interviews with potential or existing end users. But the whole concept of research for product design is far more complex.

In fact, it’s a methodology used to carry out studies of your target audience and analyze the results. By building and testing various hypotheses about users’ day-to-day needs, research design reveals possible bottlenecks in user experience and identifies ways to overcome them.

While the notion of research design usually poses no doubt, understanding its actual impact on your business KPIs and the results you are getting with software development may lack transparency. Questions like “When should we get started?”, “How do we conduct research design?”, and “What will we get in the end?” are among the most frequently asked when it comes to recognizing the value of research design. Let’s have them answered.

FAQs about research design

As a rule, evaluating research design as an asset starts either when you recognize that your knowledge about the target audience is insufficient or your previous efforts are not paying off. At this very moment, you may be seeking responses to your questions.

Why is research design important?

Research for product design is aimed at solving the problem or problems that prevent businesses from getting higher revenues, attracting new customers, or retaining loyal ones.

While typical hesitations about introducing research and design are usually about whether spending that much time on the studies is worth it, the impact of research design can be summarized as follows:

  • Ensuring more accurate resource allocation
  • Reducing the project’s time-to-market
  • Delivering maximum value with an MVP
  • Driving desired business results faster
  • Developing a solution that is tailored to real market needs

What is the right time to get started with design research?

There is no bad time to initiate design research, but the sooner you start the better, as proper research directly impacts the value you are bringing to your consumers.

The most common times to get started with research design are the MVP development stage or at the point when you realize you’re not getting the expected results with your product.

Regardless of the point when a product owner makes a move on design research, they receive a full-scale PoC based on real end users’ opinions and can proceed to implement the concept.

How to conduct research for product design under an NDA?

This is one of the most popular though less disclosed research-related questions so far. Since research design fully bases on data received from end users and consumers, conducting it for enterprise-scale businesses, that typically operate under a non-disclosure agreement, becomes a challenge.

Under such circumstances, research usually grounds on the insights provided by industry-authoritative resources like Nielsen Norman Group and Baymard Institute. Adapting the information about consumer behavior to fit each specific business case and client story allows for achieving results that are in no way inferior to the ones you get from generic research design. This, however, should only be dedicated to experience design professionals.

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What makes good research design?

What is good design research like? Imagine getting a recipe or a detailed guide on bringing your customers what they need. This is what you get as a result of good research design.

A really good product design research is not just about writing and testing hypotheses. Just the other way around, in good research, a hypothesis is built based on communication with end users, and it’s further validated and tested with the same end users.

That’s why high quality research design is never the same. It uses your customers’ input to evaluate your product by design, helping you tailor a truly meaningful and useful solution based on customer needs and aspirations.

Overall, the quality of research design is determined by the following criteria:

  • Consistent: presupposes four high-level steps to follow:
Step 1

Arriving at a complete understanding of the business goals through research

Step 2

Сarefully choosing research design methods and means to achieve these goals

Step 3

Defining the metrics that will help you measure the success of your research

Step 4

Getting the results and correctly interpreting them

  • Neutral: deprived of any bias throughout the whole research process—from selecting the measures to interpreting the results.
  • Actionable: explains what the user needs and how you can help them improve, diversify, or simplify their lives with your product or service.
  • All-encompassing: embraces all aspects of a target consumer persona, including their age, gender, ethnic background, profession, job title, income, family, education, hobbies, and preferences.
  • Reliable: allows businesses to come up with a set of standards and principles for successful product development, and the results serve as the basis for innovation.

Now, when good research design is clear, let’s take a few steps backward and grasp the idea behind it to proceed with a research plan.

Design thinking as a basis for innovation

Driving innovation and creating meaningful solutions that are likely to transform people's experiences and change the world for the better always regards consumers as paramount. This is the idea behind design thinking, a philosophy that promotes user-centric innovation and serves as the basis for research design.

Design thinking is embedded in the product strategies of Fortune 500 leaders like Apple, Microsoft, Disney, and IBM.

The six actionable principles of design thinking are empathize, define, ideate, prototype, test, and implement. They explain the process of user-focused development and underline the importance of research for product design, which is inextricably entangled with product creation.

Product design research plan

When approaching research for product design, it’s crucial to preserve consistency in the steps and actions taken. The research flow as well as the techniques and measures selected define the success of the whole endeavor and directly influence the research results.

Overall, a well-thought-out product design research plan consists of four essential stages that are consecutively interconnected:

1. Foundational research where a general idea of the whole research is formed. Depending on your business needs, the aims of design research may range from promoting employee loyalty with a corporate mobile app to figuring out why e-commerce store visitors don’t complete the checkout.

2. Generative research focuses on user studies by outlining user context, defining goals and pain points, and specifying how they see the solution. As a result, a design team comes up with user scenarios and sets up the metrics to measure success.

3. Information architecture, which often includes auditing the existing solution, rethinking architecture and the brand’s tone of voice, creating wireframes, and prototyping.

4. Evaluative research focuses on testing the previously formed hypotheses and assumptions as well as the ease of use of design solutions. A lion’s share of this stage is usability testing which helps researchers understand if they are meeting the goals set at the beginning.

To get the expected outcome and correctly interpret the results of each stage, an absolute majority of business executives choose to partner up with dedicated product design teams. But how do they know if the whole research and design process was successful?

From idea to measurable results—make a step forward with Trinetix.

How to evaluate the results of research design

There are several milestones that define the success of research design and help evaluate the results achieved:

  • Clearly stating and communicating the goal of the research and its stages
  • Defining the objective numeric parameters to measure if the goal was achieved (sales growth, new subscriptions, revenues, product lifetime value, virality)
  • Getting a research-based report with recommendations on future improvements

With each of the points above making a part of a design study, evaluating the results may be summarized in a checklist:

The main research question is answered (the hypothesis is validated)
All the obstacles, consequences, and failure reasons are clear to business executives
An action plan on overcoming the obstacles and fixing the failures is in place
Defined are the means of preventing any potential issues in the future

How can research design elevate your product: a real case

Incorporating research design methodology brings a number of game-changing benefits to your product and consumers. Regardless of the stage of your journey and the goals you strive to achieve, design research always brings you a competitive advantage and defines the direction to move further.

This was exactly the case of our client, а Fortune 500 company developing a product that would stimulate and encourage employee communication after Covid had put it on hold.

Business context

The idea behind the project was to create an online space for both casual life talks and knowledge sharing. To make sure they were doing right, the company approached their employees to present the idea and ask their opinion about the product (they planned to develop). The feedback was quite positive, that’s why they addressed our design team to get the ball rolling.

Introducing research design

Aiming to create a global product that would embrace people with various backgrounds and occupations, we suggested conducting profound research design to let their potential consumers describe an ideal product themselves. We created a focus group of 20 people and asked them basic questions including the below:

  1. How do you communicate?
  2. Do you really need to communicate more?
  3. Would you be using a product for communication and knowledge sharing?
  4. How often do you think you would use this product?
Results and transformations

Upon analyzing the results, we confirmed the client’s initial hypothesis and figured out that the demand for the product was real. However, the focus should be shifted from casual communications to mentorship and professional advisory to address the needs of potential users and bridge the communication gap they were experiencing.

This way, the product became a digital contacts book where users could find expert opinions and establish long-time online acquaintances.

This story shows that meaningful products are created by consumers and evolve together with their needs and expectations.

At Trinetix, we deliver experiences that matter to help you build truly impactful products. With conventional research design, you are letting your users express themselves. With us, you are ready to understand what’s next for your customer.

Make a step forward. Give the stage to your customers and listen to their expectations. Let’s chat about making them real!

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