What We Buy When We Buy Design Research: Bridging “The Great Divide” between Client and Agency Research Teams
Editors note: This blog post is from Andrew Harder (@thevagrant) and Hannah Scurfield (@theduchess) who ran the workshop What we buy when we buy design research at EPIC 2013. I invited Andrew and Hannah to guest contribute to the January EPIC 2013 theme because their workshop speaks to a much needed and missing conversation on what exactly clients are buying and what agencies are delivering in design research. Their articles allows us to peek into some of the important discussions that emerged from the workshop. They share with us several strategies that should be considered in the execution of design research processes.
Both Andrew and Hannah a very unique background that enables them to speak from the perspective of agencies and clients. Having moved from agency research to in-house research, they understand the affordances and challenges that boutique firms and large corporations experience. All views expressed are the authors own not those of their employers.
For more posts from this January EPIC edition curated by contributing editor Tricia Wang, follow this link.
Like most good ideas to come out of England, the inspiration for our workshop at EPIC 2013 came from conversations in the pub. In this case, we were talking about “the great divide” between client and agency research teams.
Within a few years of each other, we had both left user experience agencies to work as design research managers inside big companies. Despite having worked in-house previously, this marked a transition in both our careers.
In agencies we both sold design research to large companies. We faced similar challenges; fighting for more budget and time in the field to do more insightful work and wanting earlier involvement with designers so we could shape their work without compromise.
When we moved in-house, we faced new territory. Suddenly we had all the time we wanted, years of it. We had a research budget, sometimes a lot of it. We could work with designers from the minute they got their brief or in some cases, we were working to shape the design brief.
Yet we were also faced with some hard truths that we hadn’t anticipated. In our experience working for big consumer product companies means you are a small cog in a large machine, with objectives and dependencies that spread far beyond a specific research project. Couple that with a complex web of product owners and stakeholders and a design team to keep engaged, and you start to see why design research projects often come unstuck.
Often after spending budget on ethnographic research, design teams are still struggling later on, wanting insights that the research did not provide. And sometimes, no matter how clearly the external research agencies were briefed on project objectives, the deliverables unwittingly undermined the project vision, approach or relationships.
For both client and agency teams, keeping a research project on track is an art form in itself. However when we spoke with our colleagues and friends in research, it confirmed something we had suspected: nobody in industry or academia is openly discussing the process of buying design research. We can study project management styles but the topic of design research project management has been overlooked. The subject appears to be ‘taboo’, much to the detriment, we believe, of both client and agency research teams. Read More…