Communicating Design Research Effectively
Human-centered design has emerged as an important strategy in product and service design and development, as it has become recognized that understanding user needs is critical to product success. That understanding typically emerges through design research: the systematic study of the attitudes, behaviors, and desires of potential users and customers. The impact of design research depends on its visibility and credibility to decision-makers. However, challenges to this visibility and credibility present themselves when there are organizational separations between those conducting the research and those involved in the product development. A specific team or company may conduct design research, and then pass the results of that process to another team of industrial designers or engineers. Since the second team often neither conducts research activities nor participates in data analysis, they may not necessarily be aware of the research nor feel responsible to it. For that reason, the impact of design research in distributed human-centered design processes depends not only on how well researchers communicate the findings to other stakeholders in the design process, but also on how well they are able to convince those stakeholders of the relevance and importance of the research findings.
This work draws on a tradition of treating design as a social process where dialogue and argumentation enable stakeholders from different disciplines to collaboratively assemble a coherent and believable "story" about the product and the context of its use. In-situ interviews, workplace tours, and case studies drawing on the experiences of fifteen expert design researchers and four design engineers were used to investigate the processes by which design research is propagated to other design stakeholders, and used to explore whether persuasive and motivational principles are used in this process.
The analysis of communication strategies employed by expert design researchers suggests approaching design research communication as a design problem, one amenable to the philosophies and skills of human-centered design. The researchers in this study used the tools and methods of human-centered design in a similar and parallel design process, treating designers and other stakeholders of the design process as users of design research. Applying the findings of a double ethnography, design researchers iteratively design and test their communication pieces to create actionable research deliverables. To increase the impact of their research, they work to socialize the research throughout the design organization, and to foster a sense of ownership among the members of that organization.
Design researchers also apply Principles of Persuasion and Motivation to Learn to increase the likelihood that their research is credible and inspiring. They focus on presenting relevant evidence while challenging their audience in ways that are novel and lead to immediately apparent positive outcomes. Tactics for accomplishing this are identified through a set of case studies examining successful design research communication events at leading design research companies. Metrics for assessing the successful impact of design research are also proposed. An interactive web portal to facilitate the capture, analysis and widespread use of design methods, TheDesignExchange, is proposed as a platform for the collection and evaluation of human-centered design research and communication methods.