Three Practical Ways to Bridge the Gap Between Research and Design
By Monica Weiler / August 29, 2016
Does your organization have challenges bridging the research insights and design development phases on experience-based projects? It can be difficult, especially during large scale projects within an organization.
At Stratos, we believe that a co-design mindset and actionable research deliverables are key to bridging the research-to-design gap. Our co-design approach involves methodologies that facilitate collaboration between internal stakeholders, designers and end users in the critical space between research and design. This space is commonly referred to as the “gap” or “bridge”.
There are a lot of ways to build a strong bridge that connects research and design. We want to share three methods that have worked well for us when crossing the bridge. However, before going into more detail about those methods, let’s take a closer look at the space between gathering research insights and taking design action.
What is the Gap?
A gap can appear when insight and opportunity are not successfully communicated or acted upon during the transition from research to design. This becomes a familiar reality for researchers and designers working within siloed practices/organizations. We often ask ourselves, “If insightful research isn’t successfully presented, unpacked and applied to design, can it really be considered a success?”
Bridging the Gap
The bridge is built when insightful research is successfully communicated and acted upon by the design team. Research is informed by information about the past and present, and design is derived by inspiration about possible futures. The space in between is where both meet to make sense of insights and create actionable outcomes (the bridge). This space can be supported by co-design methodologies and activities to get the best results. The ability to bridge the gap depends on one’s willingness to work in the space between research and design; translating, facilitating and guiding stakeholders on both sides to co-create truly meaningful and actionable outcomes.
In Dr. Elizabeth B.-N. Sander’s “The Fabric of Design Wisdom”, the author describes the need to work in the space between research and design. “[T]he challenges facing humanity have become more complex and urgent, designers are now finding that they need to be informed (and perhaps inspired) by the analytical side while they are generating and exploring ideas in the design space. When we are working with wicked problems and/or large systems that are dynamically changing, we need to combine the analytical and the generative sides of the design space.”
Methods in Context: The Future of Work
Recently, we worked with an IT team from a multinational enterprise to co-create an ideal employee experience and set internal stakeholders on the path towards implementation. Though this project was specifically about improving the employee experience, the three methods used can apply to any kind of project involving experience research and design for experiences. The three practical ways to bridge the gap between research and design are to co-design journey maps with users, translate research findings into experience concepts, and co-design solutions with implementers.
Method 1: Co-Design Journey Map with Users
Journey Mapping the current and ideal experiences with employees (or any other user group) can be a powerful way to understand the current pain-points and needs, while also creating an artifact that can provide decision makers with insight and build empathy that bridges the gap. Here are a few things to think about when Journey Mapping:
- Get users involved as co-designers early in the research process to capture the current experience from an end user perspective, which will allow you to map and create a narrative of their experience (e.g.“day-in-the-life”, life journey, etc.). This framework grounds the discussion and will help to build empathy with internal stakeholders and designers (implementers) later in the process.
- Invite co-designers to map out an ideal experience based on what needs were identified from the current Journey Map. This can become a very powerful tool for getting buy-in from internal stakeholders, while keeping the experience contextualized so it provides empathy and is easy to understand.
- Use all the insight discovered as information and inspiration to create a consolidated ideal experience map and core experience concepts that can be used in a variety of ways during future ideation, implementation or strategy workshops.
Method 2: Create Experience Concepts
Experience Concepts translate research findings into a language for which designers can engage with and design around. From your research, connect unmet needs and design criteria (that have to be addressed in order to create an improved or new experience) to core concepts you’ve co-designed with users. Then weave the concepts into an ideal experience map to give solid context to the proposed ideal journey.
The Experience Concepts are a means to convey insights (needs, pain-points, motivations) uncovered during the research phase. Experience Concepts are not solutions, they are a way to handle ideas that decision makers and implementers can use without the core user needs being lost or misinterpreted. Here are some important steps when creating Experience Concepts:
- Co-design ideal experiences and start to cluster the shared goals and ideas that can be housed under one Experience Concept bucket. This exercise also forces people to prioritize what is important to them.
- With the goals and ideas clustered together, synthesize the information in order to get to the heart of what these “wish fors” are trying to address.
- Envision an Experience Concept that aligns with the goals and needs that can potentially be implemented by the design team. Present it as a concept statement with accompanying goals that can be accomplished by the users.
Method 3: Co-design Solutions with Internal Stakeholders
In order for the proposed ideal experience to become a reality, internal stakeholders need to get excited and take ownership. Facilitating a co-design workshop enables the implementers and decision makers to understand the current issues, buy-in to the future experience and create solutions from the Experience Concepts. A shared vision can have a real impact on the experience once everyone is on the same page.
As the process moves from left to right the business moves closer to making an ideal experience into a reality. Experience Concepts bridge the gap between user-inspired ideas and designer-led solutions.
- Present the current experience to immerse internal stakeholders and identify current issues. If your research has been thorough and presentation is clear and engaging, it will build empathy and create buy-in from internal stakeholders.
- Introduce the ideal, co-designed experience and the experience concepts to provide a framework and direction for implementers that keeps the user at the center of the decisions being made. Allow stakeholders to compare and contrast the current state with the ideal and present the key benefits and value proposition of the user’s desired ideal experience.
- Facilitate the creation of solution canvases. This provides structure for the mixed stakeholder groups to have productive working sessions and make decisions around the proposed experiences and how they can bring it to life. Finally, conclude with a visioning exercise that enables the internal stakeholders to create a roadmap for implementing the solutions.
These three ways: co-designing journey maps with users, translating research findings into experience concepts and co-designing solutions with implementers, have enabled us to effectively work in the space between research and design. This resulted in delivering actionable outcomes from insightful research that will continue to have an impact on many employees and their day-to-day work experiences.
Employee experience is an important and complex issue that can have a profound affect on customer experience. A company’s brand is channeled through the employee. In order to achieve excellent customer experience, an investment in design resources is critical. Designing for great employee experience can have a deep and lasting impact on the customer experience that your business exists to deliver.
Working in the space between experience-based research and design enables us to draw from both information and inspiration to quickly respond to the complex challenges that many large companies face when bridging this gap.
Have you used co-design methods to bridge the gap between research and design? If so, we would love to hear about your experience and any thoughts you would like to add. If you haven’t already, go ahead and try the approach and keep us posted on how it went! Feel free to drop us a line at firstname.lastname@example.org or @TheStratosGroup on Twitter. As always, you can find more on our website (www.thestratosgroup.com) and on our Medium blog profile (www.medium.com/@TheStratosGroup).