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Applying the Design Thinking Process in Qualitative Research

Posted By Joe Sharlip, Tuesday, January 8, 2019
Updated: Thursday, January 10, 2019
Untitled Document applying design

Design Thinking (DT) is a methodology that provides a solution-based approach to solving problems. It’s extremely useful in tackling complex problems that are ill-defined or unknown. This is accomplished by understanding the human needs involved, re-framing the problem in human-centric ways, creating multiple ideas in brainstorming sessions, and adopting a hands-on approach in prototyping and testing.

The DT mindset is a natural fit with qualitative research. As Qualitative Researchers (QRs), we are experts at delivering customer experience-based insights. As a sister discipline, DT grapples with the conundrum of how to inspire design, stirring the pot enough to generate fresh new approaches. When QRs integrate DT processes into qualitative research, we reach whole new levels of insight generation.

As a way of educating researchers on DT methodology – and its correlation to qualitative research – it’s helpful to focus on the five-stage Design Thinking model proposed by the Hasso-Plattner Institute of Design at Stanford University.

Stage One: Empathize
In this phase  the DT process aims to gain an empathic understanding of the issue or problem at hand. Empathy is crucial to a human-centered design process, and empathy allows design thinkers to set aside their own assumptions about the world in order to gain insight into consumer-users and their needs.

Stage Two: Define
Now you can put together the information you have created and gathered during the empathize stage. You will analyze your observations and synthesize them in order to define the core problems or issues you and your team have identified to this point – stated in a problem statement that is human-centered in nature.

Stage Three: Ideation
Now designers are ready to start generating ideas. You’ve grown to understand your users and their needs, and you’ve analyzed and synthesized your information to end up with a human-centered problem statement. With this solid background, you can start to ‘think outside the box’ to identify new solutions to the problem statement you’ve created, and you can start to look for alternative ways of viewing the problem.

Stage Four: Prototype
We are now in position to produce a number of inexpensive, scaled down versions of the product or specific features found within the product, so we can investigate the problem solutions generated in the previous stage. Prototypes may be shared and tested within the team itself, in other departments, or on a small group of people outside the design team.

applying designStage Five: Testing
Designers or evaluators are now able to rigorously try out the complete product using the best solutions identified during the prototyping phase. This is the final stage of the five stage-model, but it is also an iterative process where the results generated during the testing phase are often used to redefine one or more problems and inform the understanding of the users, conditions of use, how people think, behave, and feel. In this phase, alterations and refinements can be made in order to rule out impractical problem solutions and deepen our understanding of the product and its users.


Essentially, qualitative research – as DT – is dedicated to a core principal referred to as ‘Stretching.’ Successful facilitation of stretching reaches deep beneath the surface with participants, encourages each of us to become an observer, and challenges the thinking of client-observers. There are a number of powerful benefits stretching can bring to qualitative research and the insights it can reveal:

  • Helping to support and foster creative potential within each person, honoring the leader and the learner in each individual.
  • Bringing disparate voices and teams together, trying out all perspectives and viewpoints.
  • Remaining curious and empathic about stories.
  • Embracing inspiration and ‘gut feelings’ as an equal partner to analytical thinking.
  • Opening doors to creatively imagining ideas, then pulling out all the stops in the search for new views, drawing on limitless possibilities.
  • Not being afraid to fail, and, with this in mind, constantly experimenting in courageous, resourceful, and optimistic ways.

As QR practitioners we must endeavor to be more thoughtful and deliberate about how we embrace the process of exploration. Insight and empathy are critical elements of both qualitative research and DT. The intention of both is to integrate visceral or empathic connections into the process of observing, exploring, coming up with new views, and then taking that next step into designing solutions. The goal is to trigger the imaginations of all involved.  To do this, we can introduce an additional step into the qualitative phases of research in which we engage respondents in the process of designing prototypes, product ideation, or even strategic development.” We can infuse DT tools all the way through our work. The process is iterative, flexible and focused on collaboration between designers and users  with an emphasis on bringing ideas to life based on how real users think, feel and behave. Now, doesn’t this thought capture the essence of what qualitative research is all about?

Sources:
QRCA Views Magazine: Spring 2016 - Toolbox - Villanueva & Koronet - Design Thinking Tools for Qualitative Researchers

Interactive Design Foundation – Article By Rikke Dam and Teo Siang
https://www.interaction-design.org/literature/article/5-stages-in-the-design-thinking-process


joe sharlip

Joe Sharlip, QRCA Brand Manager
Joe has served in corporate, agency and consulting roles as Director of Marketing and Research, Branding Strategist and Account Planning Director for companies like American Electric Power, Pan American, and Bates Worldwide. He was recognized with a Gold EFFIE, and holds a MBA in Marketing from the University of Connecticut.  You can reach Joe on LinkedIn.


Tags:  design thinking  QRCA Digest  qualitative research 

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Comments on this post...

Janet Standen, Scoot Insights says...
Posted Wednesday, January 9, 2019
Great blog based on great articles - thanks for so clearly linking QR to DT, which all those of us involved in both, know to be true!
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