We Can’t Fit More Research in Our Cycle
where do your product ideas come from, then?
When you look at the steps in a method, you suppose each of them requires the same amount of attention. But when the rubber meets the road, certain steps require a lot more effort, and other steps seem like they can be safely shortcut. Unfortunately, understanding and defining the problem an organization aims to solve is the step that is shortcut the most.
Let’s choose one of the processes used in design and take a closer look.
Design Thinking, out of Stanford Design School (d.school), consists of five stages. The method is aimed at creating ideas and solutions. It has been harder to understand for designers than for people with business backgrounds because designers already center on “the user.” Christina Wodtke connected the hexagons with familiar user experience design vocabulary, writing How I Stopped Worrying and Learned to Love Design Thinking and Five Habits of Design Thinking. Jared Spool writes Shh! Don’t Tell Them There’s No Magic in Design Thinking. If you look at Design Thinking through the lens of research, it splits into generative and evaluative types of research activities, gathering knowledge that helps teams generate new ideas in support of people, and knowledge that helps teams judge the work they’ve created so far. Ideas, prototypes, and designs are all part of creating a solution.
The hexagons in the Design Thinking can be arranged in a cyclical pattern. The way I depict it below, where the Empathize hexagon is much smaller than the other steps in the method, represents how less time is given there. Empathize is the part of the cycle where, from a research point of view, teams go listen to real people to understand what they are trying to accomplish. In story after story, I hear this step gets squished down to one or two people, or one or two days. And it’s the most important step if you want to achieve inclusivity and diversity of innovative solutions.
If your organization prefers to keep things the way they are, stick with conventional ideas, avoid investigating their bias and assumptions, and create solutions for the mythical “average user,” then this squished approach is okay.
There’s another way. Imbue these first steps with more value by separating them out from the rest of the method. Run them as a completely separate, ongoing cycle that can go at its own cadence.
It takes time to understand a person deeper than their opinions, preferences, and explanations of how things are done. It takes time to develop rapport and trust, to get down to the deeper reasoning and reactions that fly through a person’s head as they achieve a larger purpose. It also takes a completely different mindset to define scopes of research studies based on the problem space rather than the solution currently under construction. So separate these things.
A clearer way to look at it is to see the problem space being the wellspring of strategic direction and opportunities to support more people or to support people at better depth.
The problem space cycle runs once a year. You can focus it on different concepts each year. The knowledge builds and builds over time, into something called a mental model diagram, complemented by the different thinking styles people bring to the context of their purpose.
You will never understand another human completely–there’s no “final report” that will sum people up. But the data this problem-space cycle creates is evergreen. It does not lose validity over time. So you can keep adding to it.
Most organizations’ efforts are bounded by their own perspective. Check if you are truly getting outside of the bounds of your solution. It is incredibly valuable to develop respect for the depth and complexity of your customers’ real thinking without your solution framework getting in the way. It will give you access to many more opportunities to support people.