Background story: Music Video Directors : Masashi Kawamura, Hal Kirkland, Magico Nakamura, Masayoshi Nakamura

User Research for creativity-oriented design

Masashi’s workshop

A couple of months ago, I attended a design workshop called “Make new ways to make”. It was incredibly fun and inspiring to meet Masashi Kawamura, a super creative artist I would say (his current title is “creative director & film director” though), and know all the fascinating stories of his design journey.

He walked us through some featured projects his team had been working on, specifically the process of how they came up with those awesome ideas and started from scratch building up engaging and playful products and experiences. Check out the music video above which amazed every audience in the workshop! His stories made me think “this is definitely the life that designers should live, with tons of silly (or brilliant!) ideas and crazy mind sparkles emerging from everywhere all the time”!

Sorry about the crappy overexposure! Taken at “Make new ways to make” workshop. Yes the puppy in the photo is wearing a LED costume!

A question was brought up by an audience during the workshop: “So how do you guys do user research? Any particular methods that you prefer?”

Such a great question! Obviously, they have some sort of secret weapon to pull out clients’ real needs accurately. But it turned out that the answer was:

“Good question… But we don’t really do much user research…”

Masashi told us although everyone is talking about how user research is essential t0 early need assessment in design process, their emphasis was never actually on that (if I captured his messaging correctly…). They simply ideated / sketched out stuff / iterated fast and everything just came out naturally and went smooth without comprehensive user research. Only one time or two when they proposed the initial draft to the clients, they kept silent at first and then said “maybe we’ve gone a bit too far” because the solution was too creative, but not really they missed what the target audience needs.

For me, “User Research” is still a indispensable step

I’m thinking about why somehow skipping user research didn’t have a seriously negative impact on how their solution solved problems but can be a disaster for me, and maybe other designers who also create web-based product?

Maybe it’s because we’re in different fields?

Masashi and his creative crew do design works in the field that’s so much wider than that of a typical designer who probably only focuses on one or two specific areas like UI or interaction or visual. They are creating fun stuff that are not limited to interfaces, just like Frog Design provides strategy services of diversified forms rather than purely physical or interactive deliverables. They’re not facing “how to make this interaction intuitive and easy to use” that often but “how to make things fun, enjoyable and impressive” for most of the time. They’re more like “inventors” with much more flexibility and room to go creative.

With different goals, we use different approaches for design process. Masashi and his coworkers come up with quite raw and original ideas out of the ordinary and their clients would love to see and support that creativity, while I need to consider lots of limitations based off what we have and what the clients request in a realistic manner. In the field of interface and e-commerce experience, following pattern is equally or even more important than designing something completely new considering users’ learning curve, device accessibility feature and implementation cost set from day one of the project.

The information about project goal, feature scope and special requests I need to collect from user research is crucial for not only the design process but also the implementation stage. We conducted user research on clients and stakeholders who will take advantages of our design to achieve their business goals, as well as their customers who actually use the website / apps. User research provides us with insights to define the core features, figure out the things to highlight or strip out, and prioritize the content the product delivers. We also invite developers to involve in user research to make sure we’re not doing something off limits from the technical perspective. We get quite valuable direction from user research to point out where we should be heading without wasting time and resources, and to keep a balance between overtaking user feedback and overlooking meaningful insights from user research.

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