WNM700 Module 02

Friday, January 4th, 2019 | Module

Research for… Humans

“For human-centered designers, there is nothing more valuable than discovering what matters to people—what triggers frustration and what provides ease, what brings grief and what sparks joy. That’s why IDEO studies subtle and often unspoken details of daily life: habits, circumstances, thoughts, feelings, and reactions. We rely upon access to people’s unguarded selves. Their trust is precious, and comes with responsibility.”


The first step of the design process is finding out as much as you can about a topic. It helps to identify the people who are connected to that topic, (who are sometimes referred to as “stakeholders”), see the world through their eyes, and then create solutions that meet their needs.

Why research in the first place? Research lets you gather basic data, inform strategy, and gain empathy when it’s time to ideate. Research is just professional level thinking. 

Design happens whether a designer was involved or not. Often times, the interface or control scheme of interaction is based on engineering or technological reasons as opposed to a rigorous design process. There are many examples of this in our day to day experience. For example, the control interface of a car (the steering wheel) was initially based on actual mechanics, and was an improvement to tiller steering. While modern vehicles today could easily adopt a different human interface, the steering wheel has been established, and so this control scheme will in all likelihood endure. 

Your job as a designer is to examine every step of your project throughout the design process and simply put the user at the center of design decisions. The term “user” refers to interaction with software, but many designers prefer a much more empathetic label, “human”, when discussing aspects of impact and outcomes. Great research bridges the gap from humans who will become users!

Gathering all the information you need to make informed design decisions is as much part of the design process as coding, drawing, or prototyping. In fact, if you have ever said to a friend, “Now that I’m done with research, I’m ready to start designing!” Might be better stated as, “I’m done with the research phase of my design, and now ready to start ideating!”. Information gathering and analysis are part of your design.


Information sourcing: Beyond the Google Search

Google search is good for basic information, entertainment, and shopping. But professional level research requires more professional level tools. Google has no editorial oversight (by design). Information is ranked and served based on popularity, not accuracy. Google is not accountable for the information it provides: It merely indexes it and makes it searchable. This is actually a good thing for Google Search, but not great for information verification. 

So where can you begin finding out great information?

To begin your research it is essential that you define your information need. To do this you need to know what your research topic is about, what type of information you need to answer your research question, and how much information you will need to complete your research assignment.

Let’s go step by step through the research process as outlined by The Academy of Art University’s Library.

1. The Information Cycle

Video: What is information?

Information follows a publication cycle; and it is often first published on the internet. Often, news breaks on social media sites and online news sites first. Then it appears on television and radio. It quickly moves on to printed newspapers, podcasts, and weekly magazines, such as Time and Newsweek. It then moves on to longer feature stories in monthly magazines. Finally, it is analyzed in scholarly journals and in books.

Types of Information:

Books (and eBooks)

Video and Images

define: Academic, Trade, Popular, Newspaper

define: Index, Abstract, Full-Text


define: Top Level Domain (TLD) types .gov,.edu,.com,.org

Social Media (Twitter, Facebook, Reddit) — Could be considered 1, 2nd or 3rd hand (tertiary info sourcing)


Grey Literature

  • Annual reports
  • Conference papers and proceedings
  • Government documents/reports
  • Research reports
  • Theses and dissertations

Open Thesis

Video : One Perfect Source video

2. Search Strategies

Use a marketing database like Mintel for professional level results. Employee search strategies, “Hunt and Kill” vs “Browse and Gather”

Who, what, when, where, why? 

discuss: Find your scope

3. Evaluate Information and its sources critically

Video: Using the CRAAP series of steps to critically evaluate the source of the knowledge.

4. Ethical use of Information and plagiarism

discuss: Attribution, paraphrasing, and summarizing to make smart design decisions. 

define: privacy, censorship, freedom of speech, intellectual property


fair use doctrine 

Creative Commons

5. Citation

Cite your sources for evidence-based design decisions

MLA Citation

Attribution Guide

Read through the 5 steps of the research process. It’s a lot of information, so allocate time to read it all. 

Watch a walkthrough of using the Mintel database through the AAU library site.

Notice also that the library has a study guide for Web Design + New Media

Choose a simple topic to take through the research process in 15 minutes. (I suggest something very simple, I’ll use “Pizza” in my examples, but you should choose whatever you like). Log into the Mintel Database to read a marketing report based on your topic. Find one piece of data or a fact that surprises you. List it in your journal, along with the proper MLA citation.


Information sourcing: Primary sourcing

There are lots of ways to find people who may eventually become target users. The following methods are ways to identifying potential users for your topic: Surveying, Interviewing, Observation, and Passive Data Acquisition. This is known as primary information sourcing, because you are gathering the information yourself, rather than relying upon second hand sources.

Surveying is creating a prepared list of questions for potential people. As an example, when designing a web site for a large institution, a lot of surveying needs to happen to determine not just the form and function of the site, but how it relates to the organization of that institution.

Interviewing is similar to surveying but less automated. It is ideally face-to-face, with a real person and just a designer asking questions. Typically the designer should not inquire not just how that person may interact with the design, but a deeper, more holistic understanding of the person- who they are and how they think. What are the values, activities, and needs of that person?

Observations take the designer out of the way. The intent of observation is to watch people use a product or experience and notice patterns of behaviors. It’s best if the designer can be an objective and neutral observer.

Passive Data Acquisition is about setting up automated systems of observations. These are the most quantitive of all, and can be useful for the designer to analyze and interpret patterns in the data when making decisions of hierarchy, structure, even naming.

All of these methods may be needed to find your project. You can return to them at almost any step in the process if needed, although the steps of determining need should come in the early exploratory stages.


How could your simple demo topic benefit from Surveying, Interviewing, Observations, and Passive Data Acquisition?

Using “Pizza” as our example, You could build a survey for frequency of toppings, observe a pizza restaurant and record video of a Friday night rush, or perhaps count the number of pizza boxes utilized.

Use writing, sketching, or diagramming in your journal to respond.


Activity: An Interview 

Conducting an interview

How can you design for people if you don’t know anything about them? The pillar of human-centered design is talking directly to the community that you are trying to serve. There’s no better way to understand a person’s inner world then to simply talk to them. 

You will work in pairs. You will each take a turn as both the interviewer and interviewee. Try and determine what the habits and motivations are in the other person through the use of the interview process. 

Topic Prompt

The first interview, the topic will be the use of social media.

The second interview, the topic will be education from the perspective of a student.

The interview

For the first five minutes, determine basic demographic data from your subject. This can help profile them and will be useful for analysis later. It may be helpful to record the interview via audio or video.

This includes standard demographic data:

  • Age
  • Race
  • Nationality
  • Income Level
  • Education Level
  • Marital Status
  • Family Status
  • Location

This will help when you want to translate this particular person to a composite person known as a “persona”

Next, for five minutes, ask broad and general questions, that you can use to warm up your subject. Try to ask one question each that starts with HOW, WHY, WHAT, WHERE, or WHEN. 

Document the answers. 

Finally, for the final 15 minutes, go deep. What are questions that help you start to understand the other person’s hopes, fears, ambitions, goals, dreams, anxieties? Try asking “Why?” in response to five consecutive answers from your partner. Ask your partner to visualize their topic with a drawing or a diagram.

Try and gather as much information as you can so you can see the world from their perspective. Think empathetically, but don’t be afraid to ask hard or deep questions. Document the answers.


After the interview, try and be analytical in the information you’ve gathered. What are three unique aspects of your partner’s topic? What are three needs that your partner faces?  What type of user do you think this person is? Could you determine a category or label that describes their habits? Next, try and connect the habits of the interviewee to something you think might help them within the topic. 

“How can I design a system that helps X complete Y?”

Do this together with your partner, and present your findings to the class.


How to interview a primary source “in the wild”

Find people who are associated with your topic. They shouldn’t simply be who is convenient to you like students, young people, or college students. Strive to find someone to talk to who will yield the best information. Reach out to your network of friends, neighbors, social media connections, and contacts and find time to conduct an interview. Email, chat, or video chat are all ok, but face to face is best. 

First, you are trying to establish basic demographic data. This includes standard categories:

  • Age
  • Race
  • Nationality
  • Income Level
  • Education Level
  • Marital Status
  • Family Status
  • Location

However, this demographic data is just the beginning, It’s not specific enough to author your personas or begin to map out the real work of identifying your users, which is finding trends in their habits. It’s very hard to identify a trend with one perspective. For this reason it’s always important to talk to as many different people as you can.

You should also have metrics for your data based on the chosen topic. This should be unique for every project. For example, if you are creating an application for children, try and determine what kinds of kids will be using your design, where they will be using it, and why. Often times considering the environment where a child might be using a design is as important as the form and interactions themselves!

Document interviews with people you’ve contacted. This documentation could be a written record of your conversation, or simply a list of your questions and answers. Video and audio recording of interviews are extremely helpful and will provide a much more rich opportunities for determining behavior. Body language and non-verbal cues often times contain as much meaning as the actual content of speech. 

Read the following methodology and advice from from designkit​.org


and the 5_whys document from Design.Think.Make.Break.Repeat

Using “Pizza” once again as our example, think about what questions you would ask a pizza delivery person. Now think about what questions you would ask of a pizza customer.


What is ethnography?

Ethnography is the systemic study of people and cultures. Researchers observe society from the point of view of the subjects. A bit of the tools and approaches of ethnography can help designers. The results of such research are sometimes unmeasurable, and usually fairly contextual. Ethnography helps turn testimonials into something actionable. 

Read the included article about ethnographic practices for designers from InVison Blog. 

The 3 tenets of applied ethnography.pdf 

How could you turn qualitative data “This Pizza tastes good!” To quantitative data? i.e.  “On a scale of 1–10, rate your satisfaction with this pizza”

Write or draw a brief response to the tenet you think is most important.


The One week research project!

Okay, now that you have the hang of doing research for your design, now it’s time to do a collaborative research project. You will be working in teams of 2 or 3 to research a topic. 

Choose from the following provided categories a topic that you and your team would like to research. Try and choose something that is new to you and for the members of your group. 

Craft Beer

Skate boarders/skater culture

Vintage Clothing

Bi-lingual Businesses

Personal genealogy

The Mission District in San Francisco

Expectant mothers



Theme Parks

Public Transportation

How to identify and Interview an authoritative expert

Finding someone who can help you as an expert is always a good idea. Take a few minutes to think about or research someone that you could reach out to that could help you with your project. 

Write a brief paragraph which describes who they are, what they are experts in, and how they could potentially help you as an advisor in your project. 

Create a correspondence email that lays out who you are and what you are trying to accomplish. Be sure to mention you are a student and this is a student project. Make sure you have someone proofread this email and it is free from spelling and grammatical errors. 

Attempt to contact them. Do not pester them, be polite, and send through more than one channel. It is common to get no response. You may have to repeat this process over and over!

Provide a record of your correspondence. This may include transcription of in-person or over the phone interviews. 

Primary sourcing requirements

Your team should Interview stakeholders (using “pizza” as our example, this would probably include an interview with a customer and a restaurant manager) — a minimum of two target users. You should also interview at least one authoritative expert. Your team should go through the interview process with target users. Document the interview and record any information you think is relevant. Start with basic demographic information, and then go through the empathy finding exercise covered in-class.

Secondary sourcing requirements

Your team should author a 2–3 page report that includes basic information collated from reputable sources with citations. You should then write a short analysis 1–2 paragraphs of what you’ve learned from your research.

So, all in all, your team will submit one PDF document.

• Minimum 2 user interviews. Documentation with Q & A sheets.

• Minimum 1 authoritative expert.

• 2–3 pages sourced information from secondary sources.

• 1–2 paragraph conclusion/findings statement.


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