What’s Next in Design Research?

15 Mar 2007|Darrel Rhea

This week’s Design Management Institute’s European Conference is focusing on the Metrics of Design. By any measure, the conference is well attended with over 150 designers, design managers, researchers, senior executives and others… gathering to be inspired and informed. It’s a tall order, though, to mix a conference cocktail of “design” and “metrics,” despite how critically thirsty our business public is to be reassured they are on the right path with developing products and services that will serve their customers well.

As keynote speaker on the first day, I felt responsible for communicating that there is a viable balance between intuitive and rational approaches. In fact, my position is that any company needs both to succeed in creating and communicating products and services that are meaningful to its customers.

I thought it was important to outline how marketing and design have evolved over the last 60 years and subsequently how research metrics were developed to address their changing role. We first saw the emergence of business analytics and secondary research, followed by the dominance of quantitative research. As attention shifted beyond measuring behavior to attitudes and values, qualitative methods were necessary to tease out the subtleties. As we found the need to measure the experience of consumers in a holistic way and drive deeper levels of meaning, ethnographic research emerged to provide greater cultural context.

What’s next in the evolution of design and research practices? It’s what I am calling Synpathic Research. This holistic approach develops deep empathy for the individual and group being studied by synthesizing elements of all of the methodologies described above. It is not method-centric. It does not just deal with the psychological paradigm, it is cultural and contextual. It strives to develop holistic frameworks that provide a foundation of intellectual property to build a business on. The most important aspect is that it integrates designers and design thinking into the discovery process. It strives to be a true integration of creative design intuition and social science research sensibilities.

Are we there yet? Is anyone there yet? I don’t think so, but I see progress at Cheskin and other leading firms toward this end. Stay tuned.

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