Welcome to edition one of Ask MetaLab Anything! We’re pulling back the curtain and sharing what we’ve learned after shipping nearly 200 products. Have a question of your own? Send it to firstname.lastname@example.org.
First of all, we love this question—because the best products are often shaped by strong research, not just guesswork. The short answer is that it’s something in between being well-defined and fluid.
The longer answer is that it’s about choosing the right research methods to solve the problem at hand, then synthesizing the research in a collaborative way to ensure the right decisions are made for the product and end user.
Here’s how we connect the dots between research and design at MetaLab.
First off, before you jump into doing a specific research activity, make sure it’s the right one. Solid communication with your clients and stakeholders will ensure your research answers the right questions versus wasting time just running through a gamut of research methods that are just ticking off a checklist of things to do on each project.
Research synthesis is where things get more fluid and organic. There isn’t one single synthesis method that works in every instance.
For the most part, we use research to contextualize the customer journey and balance existing business needs with customer goals. Research also helps us prioritize those needs, define feature sets, and meet the client’s business goals. Even great research doesn’t answer every possible question though, so it’s always a mix of organic idea-generation and research insights.
No matter what kind of synthesis we do, we’ve found that the more collaboration the better—between our design team and with the client. Here are some research synthesis activities we love to run with client stakeholders and designers.
Running workshops that include the project’s stakeholders is a great way to socialize research and get alignment with the entire team. It’s also a great time to get stakeholder buy-in on the design directions you’re going to explore and clearly define the project focus.
An example of this is customer journey mapping, where you define a specific customer path and define their pain-points and needs along the way.
We also like to run collaborative workshops with the larger team to quickly iterate and generate ideas. This helps the client feel like their ideas are heard and ensures the research and design team have a good opportunity to cross-pollinate important research findings.
A fun example of this is the crazy 8s method. To try this one out, give each member of your design team a sheet of paper with 8 empty squares. Then, everyone gets 60 seconds per square to sketch out an interface design. The idea is for it to be quick and simple, hence the time limit (and why it’s crazy).
Of course, you won’t land on the perfect UI design during crazy 8s (and uh, you probably shouldn’t). But it’s a great way to start putting your research to work without getting stuck in the details or falling victim to decision paralysis.
After we’ve synthesized our research, we move into concept testing. This is where we test an initial prototype with real, potential users. To do this, we take our initial ideas and integrate them into 2-4 concepts (prototypes) that push us in the most promising directions. Then, we iterate based on user feedback.
The best products aren’t instantly ready to go—real user feedback helps us define what works best.
This also helps the client see that their ideas were taken seriously, allows for creative problem solving early on, and gives fair consideration to all potential design solutions. It also helps us identify ideas that might not land well with customers, and polishes our early feature permutations.
Only after research helps align on the project focus, generate an array of solutions, and tests these early concepts do we launch into a true visual design phase. This always looks a bit different depending on the project, but we typically work in sprints and value open communication throughout the process.
Hope this helps in your design adventures! We’re always down to share more so send your own question for AMA to email@example.com.