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Methods

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Choose the right methods for your project

This section presents 20 research methods that help designers engage with people during the design process. Some methods are widely used; others represent emerging practice. To help you find the right methods for your project, each method is explored and assessed here from a number of different angles. In particular this section draws on four key references so that you can select a research method based on:

1 Input and output:

Determine what you need to put in and what you’ll get back.

This approach is based on The Methods Lab: User Research for Design, edited by Hugh Aldersey-Williams, John Bound and Roger Coleman (Helen Hamlyn Centre 1999). The Methods Lab classified different methods according to level of input in terms of the expertise, time, staffing and costs required and output in terms of what the designer gets out of it. Types of input are scored here as low, medium or high.

2 Stage of design process:

Select a method to suit the stage of the design process you are at.

The key reference here is the UK Design Council’s ‘double diamond’ design process model (2005) which maps the divergent and convergent aspects of the design process in four stages: discover, define, develop and deliver. Discover typically refers to the explore-and-understand stage of design; define to problem focus and definition; develop to the design-and-create stage; and deliver to final specification and production.

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3 Designing for, with or by people

Focus on your relationship with the people who will use your design.

This approach is based on human factors expert Jane Fulton Suri’s keynote paper (download here) at the Include 2007 conference. This identified three types of relationship between designers and users: designing for people, in which designers study and consult people in their role as experts in the design process; designing with people, in which designers share the design process with people, who become active participants in the work; and designing by people, in which designers act as facilitators to enable people to make their own design decisions. Some design methods span all three types of relationship; others relate to just one.

4 Type of interaction

Select a method based on what type of activity is involved.

The key reference here is the IDEO Method Cards. These help designers plan projects and empathise with people. IDEO identified four categories of interaction:

  • Learn – analyse information you’ve collected to identify patterns and insights
  • Look – observe people to discover what they do rather than what they say
  • Ask – elicit information relevant to your project
  • Try – create simulations to create empathy and evaluate proposed designs

We’ve added an extra category :

  • Imagine – to reflect methods that embrace more fictional, futures-based and creative aspects of user interaction

Each method in this section is also referenced with exemplar projects from the Helen Hamlyn Centre for Design and others in the field, which discuss how the method has been applied, and by background information and further reading.

We also want to share your own design methods – so please contribute here.