Ten Principles for Good Research Design

Oct 14 2010

“Good design is also an act of communication between the designer and the user, except that all the communication has to come about by the appearance of the device itself. The device must explain itself.”  - Donald Norman

Good research design should be self explanatory

Dieter Rams is a rightly lauded German industrial designer, most famous for his work with Braun where he was chief designer from 1961 until 1995.  He is also an inspiration for Jonathan Ive from Apple, and stated recently that Apple were the only current company to follow ten principles of design he followed in all his work.  As he put it, “ased on my experience as a designer, I have distilled the essentials of my design philosophy into ten principles. But these principles cannot be set in stone because, just as technology and culture are constantly developing, so are ideas about good design.”

However, I think the principles are great ones to follow when designing anything which has to be used by someone else.  Market researchers can learn a lot from considering these principles in designing approaches which aim to understand consumer behaviour:

1. Good research design is innovative

Although much research (especially in larger agencies) is templated, always consider the specific business issues faced by your client and make sure that your research solution is adapted appropriately to answer their questions as clearly and accurately as possible.  Don’t reinvent the wheel, but always check the weather and the road, and choose the most appropriate tyre and equipment for the journey you need to take.

2. Good research design is useful

Make sure that every piece of your research plan serves a purpose, and think through how you can use each piece of information to address your objectives.  Remove redundant elements unless they are necessary for successful execution of the research (or are designed to support maintenance of your research in case of failure of some elements).

3. Good research design is aesthetic

We all respond better to more aesthetic experiences, which create higher engagement, better completion rates and more honest and detailed opinions and feedback.  Always make your research as enjoyable as possible for those who you ask to participate.

4. Good research design should be understandable

Your research should be designed so that that questions can be understood by everyone.  Always consider differences in time, language, education, religion and culture to ensure that the data you collect provides a clean measure of behaviour unaffected by the participant’s ability to understand and engage in the research.

5. Good research design is unobtrusive

Dieter Rams wrote that good designs should be, “both neutral and restrained, leaving room for the user’s self-expression.”  Good research design allows participants to fully engage without noticing the design.  They should be unaware of the purpose of the research, but clear on what you require from them.  The research should be designed to give participants the freedom to respond in whatever way is most appropriate for them, and most representative of the truth, without compromising this for the sake of the researcher’s convenience.

6. Good research design is honest

Good research design should ensure that the methods, questions and response options are honest to the original purpose of the research.  The output from the research should always be an accurate reflection of real behaviours and opinions, and should avoid approaches, contexts and questions which encourage inaccurate, dishonest or socially desirable responses.

7. Good research design is long lasting

Nothing lasts forever, but a good research design should be able to outlive it’s immediate use, and should provide insight which can last well beyond the project’s presentation and reporting.  The feedback from any research cannot and should not be only relevant to one moment in time.

8. Good research design is thorough down to the last detail

Design devils are always in the detail, so make sure that your research covers everything it needs to (and no more) and is properly road tested before you put it into field.  Map your research design back to your client’s objectives to confirm that every question will be answered clearly.

9. Good research design is environmentally friendly

Dieter Rams was ahead of his time in his urge for designers to consider the environmental impact of their design.  Always ensure that the research environment is appropriate to the research objectives (environmental cues are known to have a profound impact on human behaviour).  And of course, always ensure that you minimise use of resources when printing and making stimulus materials for your research!

10. Good research design is as little design as possible

Less is more.  Always make your research design the minimum solution for the maximum number of questions and objectives.  Consider how you can answer objectives as efficiently as possible, and also how you can make the participant’s experience as short as possible.  Are some questions really necessary?  Are some of the client’s questions already answered by other data or in previous research?  Is the additional cost and time of any element of the research justified by the business risk attached to the decision?

Market research is very similar to design.  Research is an experience for participants, and about dialogue between researcher and participant.  Following good design principles ensure that the dialogue is clear, engaging, enjoyable and maximises value.


inksie.com/journal/tag/ten-principles-of-good-design/ Ten Principles of Good Design by Inksie

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