A book or bound report rolled up and allowed to unfurl

Based on conversations I’ve been having lately, there is a strong desire for a Design Research¹ Maturity Model similar to the UX² Maturity Model floating around.

I think the framing of discipline maturity in discrete stepped stages that apply to all organizations no matter what their mission or model is an unhelpful oversimplification that leads to a lot of self-congratulatory box ticking.

The overarching Capability Maturity Model is yet another unexamined frame we’ve inherited from the Department of Defense. Maybe not as pervasive and pernicious as so-called “hard skills” and “soft skills”, but worth questioning.

Because anything worth doing is…

An agenda for your pre-survey safety meeting

OK, so I haven’t convinced you to avoid surveys completely.

Well then, this is where I help you prepare your team to learn the most without getting lost at sea.

Why surveys are the most dangerous research method

To recap, I consider surveys an advanced technique because there are so many small nuances to their design that have huge implications for the results. Yet it’s so easy to throw one together using available online tools. And surveys offer no feedback mechanism to tell you whether you’ve done it well or badly. …

Voice of Design: Episode 22

“Accessibility makes good designers great, and bad designers obvious.”

(Full transcript. Lightly edited for clarity)

Erika: Okay. Okay, are we all ready to go here?

Mike: Yep.

Elle: Except you’re kind of cutting out and stuttering. I’m hoping that this power cord will fix that.

Erika: Okay. You sound good. You’re coming through good on our end. All right, cool. Hello, and welcome to the voice of design 2020 I’m Erika hall.

Mike: I’m Mike Monteiro.

Erika: And we’re coming to you from our basement headquarters.

Mike: That sounded weak.

Erika: That sounded weak?

Mike: That sounded weak. It’s 2020…

A metric to help you assess your organization’s ability to learn

It’s pretty trite to say the world is constantly changing. But it’s also true. For any business, basing decisions on outdated information or the wrong information, creates tremendous risk. So, being able to learn continuously at every level and act on that information is critical.

As of this writing, business organizations are made up primarily of human beings. So an organization’s capacity to learn depends on that of the individuals within it. And the biggest barrier to learning is fear—fear of looking like you don’t have the expertise to do your job. …

To find time for research, don’t fight the flow—fit into it

Illustration of hourglass and arrows

The concept of continuous learning can be daunting to people with a lot of other stuff to do.

What do you mean we’re never done asking questions?

Won’t we get analysis paralysis?

Living with uncertainty is uncomfortable. Having a clear unambiguous answer is very comfortable. The key is not to optimize for your comfort, but to rethink how research integrates with the rest of your product work or other business decisions. And when I say research, I don’t mean conducting formal studies or producing reports (although those are often a part of it). …

Product design is simply a matter of pursuing an eternally receding better state.

Every product company wants to build better products faster, usually bigger too. However, very few organizations get as excited about learning—learning more, learning faster—as they do about building. There is an assumption that continuing to ship will make a product organization smarter over time, but this isn’t always the case.

With all the focus on certain types of obvious productivity, it’s easy to get down in the weeds or seize on a trendy technique and miss opportunities for deeper insights. And this means missed opportunities to make the best decisions for your business. And this means accumulating risk.

No one…

Visual association with one of the greatest remakes of all time—also a cautionary tale about research.

Wow, thinking about 2013 is like looking back at the Cenozoic Era. And yet, it was only six short years ago that Just Enough Research popped into being following a lot of late nights staying up writing in a panda kigurumi. (Best way to stay warm and comfortable while typing at 1 am. When you’re working on a book, you do what it takes.)

I decided to write it in the first place because I was tired of making the same case for including research as a fundamental aspect of design, over and over and over. Why should ignorance be…

The information architecture of ethics, a draft proposal

Grabbed from The Noun Project


To examine the hazards in our industries.

To learn how to develop a Hazard Map that workers can use to identify and locate hazards so that those hazards can be targeted for elimination.

To learn the importance of making Hazard Mapping a participatory process that involves as many coworkers as possible.

—Training from the New Jersey Work Environment Council via osha.gov

Talking about ethics in digital system design and engineering is the new hotness. Because the conversation is so fresh, we don’t yet have a lot of tools for incorporating an ethical dimension into the typical design practice.


Tips for effective research recruiting

Pelican by Emmanualamador (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

It would be weird if a business owner said “I’m going to acquire 20 customers, and that’s it. Done getting new customers.” (OK, sure if each of those 20 customers gave you $100 million, maybe you’d rack up the cash and retire.)

Here in the real world, companies need to acquire customers continuously, more of them, different types, and bigger spenders — and also retain them. This means organizations need to continuously learn about their customers and prospective customers (and users, donors, supporters, etc.)—their beliefs, behaviors, preferences, and social relationships. Otherwise a competitor who understands the same people better is…

Which is why you should be doing research all the time

Do not, my friends, become addicted to evidence. It will take hold of you and you will resent its absence.

There is a myth out there that—like all pernicious untruths—just seems positively unkillable.

Myth: There is a right time to do design research

The time might be next quarter, after this release, when the designers have some downtime, when the budget has some room, if the prototype doesn’t test well, or last year before we made that terrible assumption that tanked our business. It’s usually any time but, you know, nowish.

Like most myths, this contains a truth about human nature. The truth is that people tend to procrastinate and avoid activities that make them anxious in favor of those…

Erika Hall

Co-founder of Mule Design. Author of Conversational Design and Just Enough Research, both from A Book Apart.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store