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Understand the Role of Research in Strategy Design

Learning Objectives

After completing this unit, you’ll be able to:

  • Explain why research and discovery are fundamental to strategy design
  • Explain the different purposes of research throughout the design process.
  • Explain the relationship between design research and customer listening.

Why Research Is Fundamental to Strategy Design

If you completed the Challenge Framing and Scoping badge, you’ve already learned how to take the first steps to drive business outcomes with strategy design tools and processes. In this module, you develop a deep understanding of why research is essential.

Have you ever been asked to come up with a great idea and tried to dive right into a brainstorm? Then you know how important research is to the design process.

Research is what takes design from an activity about self expression and intuition to a strategic and rigorous business practice. It keeps project teams customer-centered and focused on customer success–because ultimately companies can’t be successful if their customers are not. 

Research builds compassion for your customers, your users, and their challenges. Through the research process, you hear customer stories and learn about customer experiences, information that can unite a siloed organization. Customers can tell project teams where to focus their efforts around innovation to build value. Customer input can lead you to create strategies that build enduring advantage for your organization today and in the future. 

Research enables you to take advantage of expert perspectives and build confidence that you're solving the right problems, and solving the problems right.

When you focus research inward on the organization—which is an important part of design research—you build relationships with internal stakeholders and holders of institutional knowledge. Internal design research also informs a project’s constraints in multiple ways. 

  • It ensures that you’re driving with the right company values.
  • It ensures that you’re coordinated in your efforts and outcomes.
  • It helps you take advantage of existing organizational capabilities and cultural behaviors.
  • It helps you understand the realistic appetite for change so you can right-size your ambition.
  • It helps build empathy for designers and for stakeholders who make decisions.

All this is to say, design research aligns teams and stakeholders on priorities and increases empathy across the organization.

Research in the Design Process

Research is also called discovery when you’re talking about the Discovery phase of the design process. But research isn’t just done in the Discovery phase. Different types of research are done in different phases, from the preproject phase of challenge framing through design and deliver phases to the complete product lifecycle.

the types of research are discover, define, design, deliver, deploy

Here are the main types of research.

Research for Discovery/Understanding

This is information gathering. It helps you understand the context and constraints of a design challenge and build on work that’s already done. 

Research for Inspiration/Idea Generation

This is the most divergent type of research in format and practice, as it’s anything that inspires problem-solving at the highest level. So depending on the problem, you might find similar or analogous solutions to inform your thinking, bring in people as thought partners or codesigners, use trends and forecasts, or dive into an experience that increases your compassion for those impacted by your design challenge.

Research for Exploration/Refining an Idea

Once you have a concept in mind, exploratory research helps you hone your understanding of the nuances surrounding the challenge and build a case for the right way to solve it. This type of research focuses on desirability and feasibility, helping teams mitigate risk and optimize for impact with their solutions.

Research for Validating Assumptions, Decisions, and Designs 

When you know what you’re designing and how it should look, feel, and behave, validating research helps teams confirm that their solution is useful and usable. We won’t focus on validation research in this module because it’s less about strategy and more about UX.

Ongoing Assessment and Customer Listening

Once you’ve built and launched a product, service, or experience, it’s important to stand up some ongoing assessment and customer listening, and to make sure it feeds back into the product development backlog. 

Research Is an Ongoing Activity

Do you still need initial project research if you have ongoing customer listening? The simple answer is yes. 

Constant customer listening is an essential practice. Organizations should employ both quantitative methods—to analyze patterns of what customers do with their products and services—and qualitative methods—to understand customers’ attitudes and motivations. Customer listening feeds evolutionary product improvements. It helps you understand the value you’re delivering and the fluctuation of your customers’ sentiments and expectations over time. It helps you build meaningful relationships with your customers and lets them be heard. 

But customer listening is usually designed to help you assess the strengths and weaknesses of your current offerings. Organizations also need rigor around the types of customer and contextual research that help them develop strategies for revolutionary growth or change. Unless your research is designed to focus on innovation, your customer listening efforts will not uncover opportunities to expand into new markets, build new types of products, and stay ahead of competition. 

As you can see, research is an ongoing activity. In this module we focus on research for discovery/understanding and inspiration/idea generation—both of which are crucial for strategy design. Let’s start at the beginning and learn how to plan some initial project research.

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