In today's fast-paced and competitive world, industrial designers face the exciting challenge of creating innovative and user-centric products that capture the market's attention. While their expertise lies in design aesthetics and functionality, the role of research in the design process cannot be underestimated. Research is the key that unlocks valuable insights, fuels inspiration, and ensures that designs are grounded in real-world needs and preferences. However, for industrial designers and other professionals who are not trained in research methods, navigating the realm of research can feel daunting. In this article, we will define research methodology and provide suggestions for selecting the right one for your project.
Once a client settles on a research question, it is up to the design researcher to select the methodology that facilitates a rigorous approach. Think of methodology as a framework for conducting a research study. The chosen methodology will guide a researcher in methods and procedures that ensure the results or findings are valid and reliable.
QUANTITATIVE: Quantitative methodology is used to determine if relationships between variables exist, to test a hypothesis, or to measure a phenomenon. Quantitative data is used to make group comparisons or identify patterns. Data are numbers and reported in a standard reporting structure. Descriptive and inferential statistics require quantitative data. The output of quantitative analysis is referred to as results.
QUALITATIVE: Qualitative methodologies are used to understand a phenomenon more deeply, to obtain a detailed description of an experience, or to understand how or why an event occurs. Qualitative data may be text or images and uses a flexible reporting structure. Interview transcripts and video recordings represent qualitative data types. The output of qualitative analyses is called findings.
MIXED METHODS: Mixed methods research includes aspects of quantitative and qualitative methodologies in the same study or series of studies. Mixed methods approaches can be used sequentially or concurrently. Often, results or findings from one phase will be used to design a subsequent phase of a project. A time and motion study consisting of quantitative measurement of a motion in a workflow followed by a one-on-one interview is an example of a mixed methods study. The qualitative findings could be used to understand the results of the quantitative phase more deeply, to provide context for interpreting the results, or to triangulate the results and findings.
WHICH ONE SHOULD I USE?
Choice of research methodology should be determined using several factors:
- Research Purpose: If the purpose is to understand or explore, a qualitative methodology is likely the best approach. If a client wants to know how much or to determine if a new workflow is more productive than the old one, a quantitative approach will likely be appropriate. If a client wants both, a mixed methods approach will be best.
- Budget: Generally, qualitative studies are more time-intensive than quantitative studies. If a client’s budget is limited, a quantitative approach may be best.
- Decisions: If a client wants to use the findings of a study to generate ideas or inform iterative design requirements, a qualitative approach may be best. If a client wants to evaluate changes to a process or product, a quantitative approach is required.
The next step in planning a research study is to decide what methods will be used to collect data. Methods specific to each methodology exist but are beyond the scope of this article. If you are interested in learning more, check out some of the popular methods from a reliable source: narrative inquiry, survey, and ethnography are a few examples of methods you may encounter in the field. By embracing research methodology as an integral part of the design process, industrial designers can confidently embark on their creative journey, armed with insights that empower them to craft extraordinary products that not only meet user needs but also set new standards of innovation in their industry.Back to Insights + News