Posted by: bbannan | February 15, 2009

Research is a Method-Pam Johnson

“To research or not to research, that is the question.” Once we complete the EDIT program at GMU we are not done with needing to do users research or needs analsysis to create an instructional product.  However, according to the article “Research is a Method not a Methodology”, the author finds that research is not as stressed as it used to be and he himself has gotten away with designing some products without it.  Despite his occasional “non-research” practices, he still gives some suggestions when user research would be most valuable.

I’m not sure if I could get away with creating a good product without user research since I don’t know everything and I would think any amount of research would provide a perspective or a key piece of information that might determine the success of  the design. What do you think?  Do you think you would be able to create a successful instructional product without doing any user research?  What would that look like?



  1. The author states, “Good designers make good designs, not research.” I agree. I work as an instructional designer and my user research rarely goes beyond the rhetorical situation (audience, purpose, context) provided by the client. After I poke around in the content or application, I may have some clarifying questions for the client, but I typically don’t need to get my hands on a user to design a useful course.

    The author doesn’t go as far as to say a designer’s expertise is more important than an understanding of users. I’d they are equally important. It’s just the depth of research conducted to understand the user doesn’t have to be so laborious or extensive. Most of the time, my understanding of the user doesn’t need to go any deeper than what I outlined above. We get paid to develop innovative, useful courses that meet stated objectives, not to interview users.

  2. Perhaps the best strategy is to use the results of user research. If we integrate those results on our design, I believe is possible to create usable products without using formal user research methods approaches. There are cost-effective approaches such usability patterns that can be integrated during the design phase to design easy to use and easy to learn products.

  3. The writer is being loose with his terminology. He would be better to say that not every project needs “additional research” as opposed to “no research.” His comments in the “When to do Research” section imply that these are occasions where the designer does not have knowledge in depth already about the project content, target audience, software functionality. He skimps over the notion that as a practicing designer he is already immersed in broad content areas and delivery means. In his brief bio it is clear that he has a breadth and depth of professional experience.
    In the “Making Magic” portion he asserts that educated guesses pop into his mind seemingly from nowhere. A useful book by Malcom Gladwell, “Blink” addresses this instinctual phenomenon. It is the rapid and near invisible mental comparison and matching to what is seen and an appropriate existing mental model. The mental model may be based on previous experiences or even previous readings or studies. The caution here is that while the mental model may match up well, the usefulness of the mental model may be outdated and no longer appropriate. The educated guess has its origins often from previous experiences that seem to fit the new situation.
    While his comments may be appropriate for someone of his experience level it is dangerous to suppose that novices should blithely follow his suggestions. The more senior designer, having extensive experience may think he is skipping steps in the process entirely, but more likely is quickly mentally checking off without formally working the design process publicly. It is likely more useful when considering skipping the research to ask ourselves why that is a sound approach, and what in our professional experience lessens the need to conduct research.
    So what would the product look like……it really depends on the depth and breadth of designer experience and knowledge. Without research I would assess the resulting product would have significant shortfalls.

  4. My understanding is that a lot of companies don’t have time for research. Designers are brought in to design a product they have determined they need and do not want the IT people to figure out if it’s needed or not. It’s all about money and time. I think that is why there are a lot of programs that don’t work well for the users. There wasn’t any research to determine if that really was the cause of the problem.
    This reminds me of the video about design we watched. There was a problem with the pharmacist not being able to get work done. After their research, they determined that putting up don’t talk to me signs would do the trick. It would have been very easy for them to come in and say that they needed a new system or something much more costly.
    Research gives the projects validity and gives the designers clarity. Despite that, it’s all up to who is paying for the project and how they want the money spent.

  5. As a beginning designer, I would think that the research would help me tremendously by getting insight in to the product, the target audience and the stakeholders goals.

    I feel that the research is both a tool and an approach, and think with expertise comes the opportunity to begin to use research more as a tool than an approach. Having taught for 5 years, my notes are more of a tool to me than an approach, whereas my first year writing my notes was an approach I took to learn the material before teaching it.

    I also think that the research would only be as good as it was designed and implemented. Of course, if the research method is poorly designed, it is a good chance that the results will be poor and possibly misleading.

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