Fuel Cycle

What is Design Research?

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Imagine that a friend plans to surprise you with a vacation.

They don’t ask you what your schedule looks like, if you’re remotely interested in going on a hike through a jungle, or if you’re up to date on the necessary vaccinations. They prepared diligently behind the scenes, but never took your needs into consideration.

While a jungle trek sounds amazing for some, it’s simply not for you, and everything your friend did was in vain. Your friend doesn’t get the anticipated reaction they had in mind because they never asked about your needs. 

This analogy is a bit extreme, but it’s relatively accurate when it comes to a brand’s critical initiatives in meeting its user’s needs. 

An expansive heap of resources can go into a project outcome that your team perceives as ideal for your user. But, upon the launch your efforts, expectations are not met, and users are left with something that does not satisfy their needs.

Fortunately, there’s a safeguard: design research.

What is Design Research?

Design research is a user-centric approach that gives you an intimate insight into your user base. You’ll retain information regarding who your user base is, the problems they are facing, and how they’re going to utilize your product.

In a nutshell, design research is grounded in empathizing with users and their qualitative data. Brands will be able to have incredible insight into their user base by evaluating their behaviors and suggestions on product development.

Design Research vs. Market Research

Both design research and market research have some things in common, but they are more different than they are alike.

Design research gravitates toward collecting qualitative data where the primary focus is to find the cause of user behavior. Design research helps flesh out and perfect the user experience. 

Marketing research primarily uses quantitative data with the focal point being the sales of the service or product. Marketing research also uses large sets of data to better understand demographics, business insights, and trends.

Research Methods in Design Research

There isn’t one, canned method of conducting design research. In fact, there are a few traditional methods of research that are used in the design research framework.


Primary research is like standing in front of a blank canvas. The goal is to come up with new data provided by your users so that you can determine “who” you are designing for. Primary research allows space for feedback from users and flexibility in the design process. Some examples include focus groups, interviews, or online discussion boards.


Secondary research is utilizing existing data and documentation to support your designs and best practices. Secondary research methods may also be used in conjunction with primary research to strengthen the validity of the design. Some of these may include past studies, existing research reports, etc.


Evaluative research allows feedback from a user in real-time. An example of this is an in-app pop-up asking how a user is enjoying their experience so far.


In generative research, you are able to choose which solution you want to create for a specific problem. These “problems” are consumer pain-points that have usually been noticed by means of contextual interviews, data mining, or other means of past collective research.

Benefits of Design Research

Design research is based on fact. It’s vital that a company does not become complacent in meeting user needs. The assumption that all is well with your user base may be a huge neglect of needed improvement. 

Design research creates empathy for your users. The most foolproof marketing tool of all is to be invested in your users. Design research opens the door to face-to-face interactions with your users, and nothing solidifies user loyalty more than making a user feel seen, heard, and taken care of.

Design research allows you to prioritize. With users at the center of your objectives, your findings in the research phase will help you to prioritize what is most important. user satisfaction, product success, and demographics served can all be funneled into the right priority level when having design research as the backbone of your company.

Design research makes users happier. Putting the user behind the steering wheel helps you to see how easy or difficult your product or service is to navigate.

Next Steps After Design Research

Transfer the data into a better format. Once your design research has concluded, it’s best to compile all of your data into a cleaner format. This includes filtering the data, ensuring participant privacy, tagging artifacts with metadata, and categorizing data.

Organize the data so that it makes sense. It’s important that the data be organized in a way that helps you to prioritize your game plan. 

Extract insights from data. What does the data tell you that you need to change immediately? What trends do you identify that warrant a remedy? Analyze and record your key observations.

Test insights against existing knowledge. How do your design research findings stand up against your current best practices? Are users currently pleased with your product or service?

Turn insights into actions. The data from your design research should be easily accessible to your team and stakeholders. Share it far and wide to get the wheels turning on providing solutions.

Wrap Up

If you want to remain competitive in an increasingly competitive consumer marketplace, your ace-in-the-hole will be building campaigns and initiatives that directly align with your user’s opinions, preferences, and needs.

The stand-out strategy for doing that effectively is employing consistent and continual design-research to gather data that fuels your company objectives.

Without design research, you’re just lost in a jungle with no clear footpaths toward success.

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