How design research helps us make better decisions

May 23 2019

At mN we use user research to ensure we make the best things we possibly can, it really is that simple. Here, research is an integrated part of our design process - that’s why we choose to call it design research.

You might be familiar with the ‘make, test, learn’ philosophy, championed by the lean and agile movements (if you’re not, it’s a continuous cycle of iteration and improvement, where prototypes are a central part of the process). We’re all for that, but believe it misses out an important opportunity to learn. Instead, we think of it this way:

Design research

1. Learn to make: We start by understanding what the opportunity is and define what kind of thing to make.

2. Test to learn: Find ways to evaluate the thing we’ve made and make it better.

Each project that forms part of our learning journey needs a different research approach. If we’re learning to make, we’ll take a more exploratory approach, which often involves depth interviews. Whereas usability testing (where participants use our prototypes, or things we’ve made) allows us to test to learn.

We don’t have dedicated researchers at mN. This is a deliberate decision that’s designed to bridge the gap between research and execution - having research findings live in the heads of the people who plan, design and build our experiences is valuable. We therefore involve a wide cross-disciplinary group in all research activities.

Our wide range of expertise provides valuable insight, but to ensure we maintain the highest quality of research we’ve got a set of principles that we work from, so the team are all on the same page 100% of the time. Though there’s one fundamental aspiration, and that’s to make something better for people.

We’ve shaped our design research principles to allow us to gather the best insight in the right ways, every time. We’re all about efficiency and working as a team to collect the information that’s essential to the creation of perfect design solutions.

1. Research is not the goal

Research is never an end in itself, so be clear about what it will help us achieve - and make.

2. Just enough

Only do what is necessary to make a decision and move things on - we are not scientists.

3. Don’t start from scratch

Build on research that already exists when possible, add to it rather than starting over.

4. Less (documentation) is more

Communicating findings is very important but our aim is to make a thing, not write a long report.

5. Involve the team

It’s the best way to learn about users - but ensure someone with experience leads the way.

6. Make things to understand things

Make things to show participants - or make things with them - it focuses the conversation.

Ideas are abundant, but it takes specific execution to deliver something that both answers user needs and enhances the overall experience of the thing we’re designing.

Check out our design research case studies to see how these principles and approaches allow us to make the right things and, in turn, create better experiences.

Mille, Head of Strategy & Sophie, Studio & Brand Manager