Title: A Designer’s Research Manual
Author: Jenn and Ken Visocky O’Grady
Formats: Paperback, Kindle
Publisher: Rockport Publishers
Published: July 1, 2017, 2nd edition
The Value of Design
Debates over design styles, aesthetics, and whose sense of visual taste should win out frequently become heated and emotional—and are often devoid of objectivity. A comment we’ve heard in conversations among designers is: “Clients don’t get it.” In reality, it’s the designers who might not get it. I tend to think that designers’ traditional focus on craftsmanship, technique, and style rather than value informs these clichés.
Discussions about why it’s important to include design in business decisions and why designers make the decisions they do should occur within the context of value creation for organizations, not as a claim that people with the word designer in their job title have an inalienably better sense of taste than others do.
But what is the right way to value design? Jenn and Ken provide a comprehensive collection of frameworks and maturity models that you can use to explain the high-level value of design in the abstract, but also to evaluate design within your organization or for clients. While I was already familiar with the framework the Design Management Institute (DMI) uses, the book presented additional systems.
A book describing the value of design and research methods would seem incomplete if it didn’t include credible examples.
One of my favorite examples comes from IBM—whose oft-quoted Thomas Watson Jr. stated: “Good design is good business.” Of course, that’s a nice, declarative statement, but this book presents a fantastic, detailed examination of the use of design at IBM. Particularly inspiring is IBM’s investment in design research. (A plethora of design research content available on IBM’s Web site.)
Another great example is Hyatt. The book includes a case study of the Hyatt Place concept. I’ve spent more than a few nights in hotels, including Hyatts. The example Jenn and Ken’s book presents illustrates how research informs design decisions. The insights that come from persona development—for example, the business traveler who has traveled through hell and is looking for a comfortable, welcoming place—illustrates the power of research-based design. It is unlikely that the designers who created Hyatt Place—a rebrand of AmeriSuites—would have achieved such successful outcomes without the insights that came from their research.
The authors of all the books I’ve reviewed have diverse backgrounds. Jenn and Ken—like myself—come from a visual-design background. The UX-design profession is fortunate to have such a broad collection of voices, spanning technical writers, visual designers, front-end developers, psychologists, and more. As I noted earlier, we need more diverse voices contributing to design processes that lead to powerful outcomes.
A Designer’s Research Manual is a comprehensive starting point for UX designers who want to integrate research into their work. The book provides a sound foundation for designers whose goal is to deliver value over style. It is not a how-to manual for conducting specific types of research. If that’s what you need, in most cases, you should seek out additional resources. But, if you are looking for a useful survey of design-research methods or want to refresh the research methods in you UX tool chest, Jenn and Ken provide a good collection of tools and tactics.