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Unit 2
Research Methods
in Design

1. Introduction

Understanding how methods help a designer to design is fundamental to improve one’s practice, given that the same method is replicable and adaptable to different situations. In Unit 2, you will be exposed to different methods with examples given as case studies to practice the method learnt. It will then be essential for you to apply such methods in every project that you do in the foundation and in your later studies.

2. Learning outcomes

By the end of this unit, you will be able to:

> Understand how the design process works

Understand how to define problems

> Understand why the user is essential

> Explore how to sketch and develop ideas

> Understand how to do secondary research

> Understand how to evaluate and review

Lesson 1: Empathise with people

Lesson 2: Define problem and user

Lesson 3: Sketch ideas

Lesson 4: Design and test

Lesson 5: Sea

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Lesson 1
Empathise with people

Lesson 1

1. The Design Process

Designing means to put in place a very specific professional methodology and skill-set. Understanding the methodology and its methods when doing a project allows you to design consciously through defined steps. Look what the International Council of Design says about it. Then, look at the diagram that I suggested for BACA and the one shared by the UAL. Think about the way you followed (or not) these steps in the last project you did.

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The Design Process at FADM BACA ©Thomas Verbal

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The process shared by the UAL in their portfolio sessions

YOUR TASK

Share your thoughts on the following questions.

> Why is research important in developing ideas?

> What makes sense to you and what doesn't? Why?

2. Empathise with people

Thinking about the user is essential in the design process as these are the people who will interact with your work, whether it is a graphic campaign, a product, an installation, a game, an app. You design for people, whether these are specific individuals or target groups. Surveys and interviews are useful research methods to collect data from people. Do you understand the difference between both?

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Surveys need to be short, on a single theme and present a set of clear and simple questions. Surveys can be done online or on paper questionnaires, with questions that can be closed-ended (providing predefined response options) or open-ended (allowing respondents to provide their own answers).

​Examples from students’ projects

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Example of survey made by teacher for his students (2023)

YOUR TASK

Plan a survey.

> What do you want to know from those you ask questions to?

> Write at least 10 questions that you would like to ask

Start with a demographic question, then closed and open-ended questions.

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Lesson 2
Define problem
and user

Lesson 2

1. Diverge and Converge

When doing your research you need to stay open as you discover a variety of information from primary and secondary sources. Once you have enough data, you can start to define the problem through a statement.

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​Design Thinking process

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The Double Diamond Design Process

YOUR TASK

Look back at the research done so far.

> Write 3 problem statements with the following format: <what you have researched on> <what problems you have found> (e.g. I have researched on women rights and I have found that...)

> Ask yourself WHs questions to formulate further research questions.

2. User PERSONA method

As a student – and even as a professional – you may not always have access to real users. The method User PERSONA allows you to create the profile of a typical user of your project to help you understand their needs, experiences, behaviours and goals. It also helps you to define the problem that the user may find. 

YOUR TASK

Share your thoughts on the following question.

> What are the differences and similarities between these two users?

Who are you designing for?

Imagine a user that will use or see your current work. Apply the PERSONA method by imagining this typical user by creating her/his identity. Give that user a name, a face, personal information, likes and dislikes. Fill in the following document

3. Visual maps

Remember to visualise your research. If you do a moodboard, you collect images, photographs and materials that express feelings and concepts related to your theme. There are no words. On the other side, a mind-map helps to visualise your research and ideas by classifying them in different groups and categories with images and words.

YOUR TASK

> Which method of visual board do you prefer to use? Why?

Start doing a moodboard or a mind-map to visualise your research.

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Lesson 3
Sketch ideas

Lesson 3

1. Doing research

While primary research involves your active participation in collecting data first-hand by going directly to the source, secondary research involves the summary or synthesis of data and literature that has been organized and published by others. Parallelly, practical research is a type of research that requires experimentation and from which you can learn through making. Successful ideas sit at the intersection of these three types of research.

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Images from Graphic Design Thinking, Ellen Lupton (2011)

YOUR TASK

> What is the difference between primary and secondary research?

> In the diagram, where could visual boards be found? Why?

Share your thoughts here and in your sketchbook. Write at least 100 words.

Lesson 4
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Lesson 4
Sketching ideas

1. Sketching as me

What do you need to generate and communicate ideas? Imagination, a topic or problem, research done on that topic or problem, and then a paper and pencil. The first and most useful tool to generate ideas is to draw on your sketchbook anything that comes to your mind whether these are associations of elements, new shapes, the slogan for a poster, the wireframes of an app, the storyboard of an animation, etc. There are different exercises to free your mind when stuck in front of a piece of paper. Here are some:

YOUR TASK

Practice each method for 5 minutes each with the examples given by your teacher.

> Visual Brain dumping: Sketch different variations of toilet icons

> Forced connections: Sketch crazy multipurpose tools that have more than two functions.

> Action Verbs: Draw a series of chairs with one chair per action verb.

> Collaborative sequence: Start drawing an object and let your neighbour continue.

Share your thoughts here and in your sketchbook. Write at least 100 words.

2. Communicating ideas

Sketching is not only useful to think but also to communicate your ideas to others and receive feedback based on what you show. It doesn’t matter that you draw well or not, it is all about the idea that you generate. The next step after doing sketches would be to have technical drawings, detailed storyboards or detailed illustrations of your ideas, depending on your project’s field, but as you can see, details would be of foremost importance. 

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BUGFOOD FMP project by Zunk

YOUR TASK

Look at the sketches from this student. His project was about designing a brand where beverages and food are made of bugs. He also designed a foodcart where to sell his food.

> Based on the sketches, what is he trying to develop here?

> How are the sketches helping him to move on to a next step?

Share your thoughts here and in your sketchbook. Write at least 100 words.

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Lesson 5
Surveys and Interviews

Lesson 5

1. Surveys

Surveys are a very common method of investigating the attitudes of a group of people towards concepts by presenting them a set of clear and simple questions. Surveys can be done online or on paper questionnaires, with questions that can be closed-ended (providing predefined response options) or open-ended (allowing respondents to provide their own answers). Surveys are useful for gathering quantitative data, statistical analysis, and identifying trends or patterns across a group of people as long as its construct (goal) is clearly communicated. When designing their own survey, students usually get answers from more than 60 people. Look at the following examples.

YOUR TASK

> Give the example of a project you have done. How a survey could have helped? 

> What are your thoughts when looking at the survey I did for my tutor group last year? What was good? What could be improved?

Share your thoughts here and in your sketchbook. Write at least 100 words.

For more information about survey design, download the following document.

2. An interview

An interview is a more personalised and in-depth method of data collection, involving direct interaction between an interviewer and a respondent. Interviews can be face-to-face conversations or virtual meetings. The purpose of an interview is to gather detailed and personal information from the perspective of the respondent. While surveys gather quantitative data, interviews capture qualitative data, quantity versus quality. Here could be the structure of a typical interview: Part 1. Intro + warm up questions – Part 2. Development – Part 3. End questions.

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YOUR TASK

In the project Carpet of Memories, students usually conduct an interview to a family member. If you had to interview someone from your family to tell you stories and anecodtes about your family’s past, about an item that they have kept because of family memories, Who would you interview? Why?

Share your thoughts here and in your sketchbook. Write at least 100 words.

For more information about how to prepare an interview, download the following document.

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Lesson 6
Searching for References

YOUR TASK

In the project Carpet of Memories, students usually conduct an interview to a family member. If you had to interview someone from your family to tell you stories and anecodtes about your family’s past, about an item that they have kept because of family memories, Who would you interview? Why?

Share your thoughts here and in your sketchbook. Write at least 100 words.

Lesson 6

1. Creative projects

You can find references in websites by typing the right keywords, in films, in museums and in books among other sources. As designer, you need to find inspiration in the work of other creative minds whose ideas are innovative and whose skills, when used in the context of a specific project, can raise awareness, call for action and manifest change on a local and global scale. Download this document and have a look at the projects presented.

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E.g. The project TOKIO BOUSAI is a disaster preparation book by NOSIGNER www.nosigner.com

YOUR TASK

Choose one project from the file that you find interesting for your project now or in general.

> What do you find interesting in this project? Why?

> How does this work inspire you? What can you learn from it?

Share your thoughts here and in your sketchbook. Write at least 100 words.

2. Reflection on a Designer

Some time ago, I was asked to mention a designer that I find inspiring and that I would recommend to my students so they get also inspired. I wrote this paragraph on Curro Claret, an industrial designer based in Barcelona. In 2015, when I still was a student, this project inspired me for my bachelor’s FMP.

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YOUR TASK

> Why is the T300 piece inspiring for a designer?

> Is the idea stronger than the product?

Share your thoughts here and in your sketchbook. Write at least 100 words.

3. Creative projects COM

What projects could discuss memories and identity? Have a look at some of the examples that I suggest for this topic and ask yourself some questions when analysing them:

1. Analyse your reaction to the work: What do you think/feel when you see it?

2. Evaluate the artist or designer’s intentions: What is successful about the work? Why?

3. Analyse your decision in choosing this work: How does this work inspire you? What can you learn from it? 

4. Analyse the relation between this work and yours: Why do you find it interesting for your own work?

See more: wakelet.com/@thverbal

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Lesson 7
Evaluation and Review

YOUR TASK

In the project Carpet of Memories, students usually conduct an interview to a family member. If you had to interview someone from your family to tell you stories and anecodtes about your family’s past, about an item that they have kept because of family memories, Who would you interview? Why?

Share your thoughts here and in your sketchbook. Write at least 100 words.

Lesson 7

1. Communicate clear intentions

For every project, you need to communicate the problem that your observed, what your project is about and what you are going to do. When you stop everything that you are doing to reflect ten minutes in silence on these three parts, it is part of a longer reflection process. It is obviously better to reflect on your intentions early in the project than to late but hopefully this guideline helps you to structure your thoughts.

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YOUR TASK

> Fill this guideline with your last project in mind.

> Try to fill it in for the project you are doing now.

Share your thoughts here and in your sketchbook. Write at least 50 words.

2. Compare and Contrast

Not all evaluation and review is written as we usually think. Evaluation can also be visual as it by comparing results and choosing the best options that you are analysing and evaluating your work. Look at these two examples and note how the students ask themselves implicitly if that looks better by changing...the colour background / the typeface / the shape / the material...Asking other to give their opinion on your work and taking their feedback into consideration is also part of evaluation and review.

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3. Written evaluation in the sketchbook

For each step of the project, document your practice through pictures and write short paragraphs that tell us more about the process. For this, have these questions in mind:

Describe your practice: What have you done? When? Why? How? With what?

Analyse your practice: What do you think has happened? What did you learn?

Evaluate your practice: How was it? What worked? What didn’t work? What could you improve? It’s important to share both sucesses and failures.

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YOUR TASK

Open your sketchbook, take your last steps in the project and ask yourself the questions stated above by focusing more on the self-evaluation.

> What worked? What didn’t work? What could you improve? 

Share your thoughts here and in your sketchbook. Write at least 100 words.

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