Volodymyr Khliupin Photo
Volodymyr Khliupin
Head of UX
min read

What is design research?

A book with the title "What is design research?"

When you start designing the user experience for your digital product, there is one thing that forms the foundation for all further development. It’s called Design Research. It is something that, if skipped, may change the course of the product development in the worst-case scenario. Welcome to read why!

What is design research? Design research methods

A pie chart showing the percentage of failed digital products

Over 30,000 new products are introduced into the market each year and about 95% fail. One of the key precipitating factors of this demise is the poor or absence of design research. Most of the popular and successful products did not become so due to guesswork. Careful and profound design research was conducted to ensure the products solved real-world needs and resonated with users.

Despite its enormous benefits, most businesses still neglect design research because it is not well understood.  That is why we have dedicated this article to ensure you understand design research, when it should be conducted, common methods, and how it can benefit a product when thoughtfully applied. 

What is Design Research?

Design research is a systematic inquiry that combines qualitative and quantitative research methods to inform design decisions and enhance the design process. The design research definition implies that the product is not built blindly without first understanding the needs of those who will use it. Design research is an essential facet of creating user experiences that are not only aesthetically pleasing but also highly functional and user-centric. Understanding user needs through design research is pivotal for tailoring products, services, and systems that truly resonate with end-users.

This type of research is integral to the design process because it provides empirical evidence and insights that lead to more human-centered, functional, and aesthetically pleasing designs. It combines methods from both qualitative and quantitative research to form a comprehensive understanding of the user and the problem space.

Qualitative research in design involves non-numerical data collection and analysis, which helps in understanding the motivations, thought processes, and cultural contexts of users. Techniques such as interviews, ethnographic studies, and participant observations are common qualitative methods that offer deep insights into the human elements of design challenges.

Quantitative research, on the other hand, deals with numerical data and statistical analysis. It provides a broader overview of user behaviors and patterns through methods like surveys, usage data analysis, and experiments.

Design research is not limited to product design alone; it also encompasses service design, interaction design, and user experience (UX) design. It enables design researchers to create empathy with users, uncover unarticulated needs, and identify problems that may not be immediately apparent.

By integrating user feedback and empirical findings into the design cycle, design of research helps avoid the pitfalls of assumption-based design. It leads to solutions that are more likely to meet the real and nuanced needs of the target audience. As such, it plays a crucial role in innovation, ensuring that new designs are desirable for users and viable in the market.

Why Design Research?

Design research serves as a critical cornerstone in the process of creating products, services, and systems that are not only functionally robust but also resonant with the users they're intended for. The benefits of design in research are manifold, especially when incorporating it into the development cycle. 

The methodology of creating digital product designs
  • User-Centered Solution 

At its core, design research focuses on understanding the user. It brings the user's perspective into the design process, ensuring that solutions are tailored to meet their actual needs, behaviors, and contexts rather than what designers or businesses assume they need.

  • Informed Decision-Making 

Design decisions should be based on evidence and insights. The research in design process provides the data and analysis necessary to make choices that are backed by solid information rather than guesswork, leading to more effective and strategic outcomes.

  • Risk Mitigation 

Through early and ongoing investigation, design research can identify potential issues and user pain points before they become costly post-launch problems. This proactive approach saves time and resources by preventing the need for significant changes or pivots late in the development process.

  • Innovation and Differentiation 

By uncovering latent needs and identifying opportunities that others might not see, design research can be a source of innovation. It often reveals areas for differentiation that can be a competitive advantage in a crowded marketplace.

  • Enhanced User Experience 

By understanding the user's environment, emotional states, and overall journey, design research informs the creation of more intuitive and enjoyable user experiences. This understanding leads to increased user satisfaction and loyalty.

  • Cross-functional Collaboration 

It brings together diverse perspectives from across an organization. Designers, developers, marketers, and business strategists can all draw on the insights generated by design research, fostering a collaborative environment focused on a common goal.

  • Value Creation 

Products and services shaped by design research often lead to higher value for both the user and the business. For the user, this value comes in the form of products that truly fit into their lives. For businesses, this translates into products that are more likely to succeed in the market.

  • Strategic Alignment 

Design research helps align the product strategy with business goals by ensuring that the solutions devised are viable in the long term and contribute to the overarching objectives of the company.

  • Social and Ethical Responsibility 

Understanding the wider impact of design on society and the environment is crucial. Design research can help anticipate and mitigate negative consequences, ensuring that products serve not just the business and its customers but society at large in a responsible manner.

The Difference Between Design Research & Market Research

Design research and market research are distinct yet complementary tools used in the development of products and services. Market research is concerned with understanding the market dynamics, such as customer segments, industry trends, and competitive landscape. It relies more on quantitative data to guide marketing strategies and decisions related to market viability.

Design research, in contrast, dives into the user experience, focusing on the behaviors, needs, and motivations of the user. It typically employs qualitative methods to obtain a nuanced view of how users interact with products and what improvements can enhance usability and functionality.

While market research informs businesses about what products or services might be successful in a market, design research provides insights on how to design these offerings to ensure they meet user needs and provide an excellent user experience. When combined, they ensure that a product is not only marketable but also user-friendly, functional, and well-designed.

The visualized difference between market and user research

When to Use Design Research

Design research is an essential component of the design process and product development, employed not just at a single point but throughout the creation and refinement of a product. It is critical for understanding and defining user needs during the initial stages of conceptualization. As product development progresses, design research contributes to shaping and testing prototypes, ensuring that the final product aligns with user expectations. Even after a product's launch, design research provides insights that guide post-launch improvements and future updates. By consistently applying the insights that design research brings, companies can create better, more user-centered products that evolve with their users' needs.

Design Research Methods

Design research is a multifaceted discipline that draws from a variety of research tools and methods to gather insights into user needs and behaviors. These methodologies range from observational techniques that capture the natural user environment to analytical tools that parse large data sets for patterns and trends. Here's an overview of some key design research methods:

User Interviews: These are one of the most straightforward methods in design research. It is done through one-on-one discussions with users that aim to uncover their motivations, needs, and challenges. This qualitative method is essential for gaining deep insights into user psychology and experiences.

  • Surveys and Questionnaires: Structured tools that gather large amounts of data from various users. They can be both qualitative and quantitative, providing a broad understanding of user preferences and behaviors.
  • Usability Testing: A critical component of design research, this method involves observing users as they interact with a product to identify usability issues and areas for improvement. This method is very valuable before product release and is often conducted multiple times.
  • Field Studies and Ethnography: In-depth research that involves observing and interacting with users in their own environment. This method provides a rich context for understanding how users live and work, which can inform design decisions.
  • Persona Development: Creation of archetypal user profiles based on research data, which can help design teams empathize with and design for specific user groups.
  • Journey Mapping: Visual representation of a user's experience with a product over time, highlighting pain points and opportunities for enhancement.
  • Competitive Analysis: Assessing competing products to identify industry benchmarks and opportunities to differentiate.
  • Card Sorting: A method used to understand user mental models and perceptions, often applied in the design of information architecture.
  • A/B Testing: Comparing two versions of a product to determine which one performs better in terms of user engagement or other predefined metrics.
  • Analytics and Log Analysis: Using quantitative data from analytics tools to understand how users interact with a product and to track patterns over time.
  • Workshops and Co-Creation Sessions: Collaborative approaches that involve stakeholders and users in the design process to ideate and prototype potential solutions.

These research methods and tools are not used in isolation; rather, design researchers often employ a mix of these approaches to gather comprehensive insights. The choice of methods depends on the stage of the design process, the nature of the product being designed, and the specific goals of the research. By leveraging a combination of these tools, design research uncovers not only what users do but also why they do it, providing a solid foundation for creating user-centered designs.

The UX research methods used during digital design process by Lazarev.

Most Impactful Design Research Tools

The logos of UX research tools used by Lazarev. UI UX design agency

In design research, there are tools that have proven to be particularly impactful due to their effectiveness in gathering and analyzing user data to inform design decisions. These tools not only help in capturing insights but also assist in interpreting and communicating the findings in a way that's actionable for design teams. Here are some of the most impactful design research tools:

  • User Experience (UX) Testing Platforms: Tools like Usertesting.com and Lookback.io allow researchers to conduct live remote usability tests and interviews, capturing screen interactions and user reactions in real time.
  • Survey and Polling Software: Platforms such as SurveyMonkey and Google Forms facilitate the creation and distribution of surveys, which can reach a wide audience for quantitative and qualitative feedback.
  • Analytics Tools: Google Analytics and Mixpanel provide deep insights into user behaviors on websites and apps, offering a wealth of quantitative data that can influence UX design decisions.
  • Customer Relationship Management (CRM) Systems: CRM systems can be a treasure trove of user interactions, providing a historical view of customer experiences and feedback.
  • Heatmap and Session Recording Tools: Tools like Hotjar and Crazy Egg give a visual representation of where users click, move, and scroll on a page, revealing what captures user attention and where they encounter friction.
  • Prototyping Tools: Adobe XD, Sketch, and InVision allow for the creation of interactive prototypes, which are crucial for the early testing of design concepts with users.
  • Affinity Diagramming and Mind Mapping Software: Digital tools such as Miro and XMind help in organizing and prioritizing research findings, facilitating the synthesis of complex data into clear, actionable insights.
  • Persona and Journey Mapping Tools: Software like Xtensio and Smaply enable researchers to create detailed personas and journey maps, which are essential for visualizing the user experience and communicating it to stakeholders.
  • Text Analysis and Sentiment Analysis Tools: For handling open-ended survey responses or social media data, text analysis tools can automate the detection of patterns and sentiments in large volumes of text data.
  • Design Sprints and Workshop Facilitation Kits: These tools provide a structured approach to collaborative design thinking, often including physical or digital cards, templates, and guided activities to drive creativity and problem-solving in teams.

The power of these tools lies in their ability to collect both qualitative and quantitative data and make sense of it in the context of the design problem at hand. They are used not only to understand current user behavior but also to predict and test future behavior in response to new design solutions. The insights garnered from these tools are instrumental in creating products that are not only functional but also emotionally resonant with users.

Example of a Perfect Design Research Case Study

A perfect design research case study effectively illustrates how combining various research methods can lead to successful outcomes in product design. We want to offer you see an example of how a company might use design research to develop a new product.

One of our projects is Metastaq –– B2B platform that makes it super easy to create, manage, collaborate on, mint, and share NFTs for marketing purposes. Our cooperation at Lazarev. with Metastaq began with user interviews and ethnographic research to understand brands' needs, followed by surveys to quantify these insights. The creation of personas led to co-creation workshops, where stakeholders and users ideated potential product features.

Prototypes based on these ideas were refined through usability and A/B testing, with an iterative design approach allowing for multiple enhancements. The final MVP product was a user-friendly B2B solution for businesses to create, mint, and release their brand new NFTs all in one platform. 

Metastaq success can be attributed to its diligent application of design research throughout the product development process, resulting in a product that was not only functional but also intuitively matched user needs and expectations.

Read the full NFT B2B platform case study following the link.

As a design research company, we dive deep into the heart of your user’s world, using our profound understanding and experience in qualitative and quantitative methods to bring to light the true user needs that drive successful designs. Contact Lazarev to start your design research process now. 


What is the difference between design research and research design?

Design research is dedicated to understanding user needs and informing the design process, whereas research design refers to the plan or strategy underlying a research project, often in academic or scientific studies.

What is the goal of design research?

The primary goal of design research is to gain insights into user needs, behaviors, and preferences to inform and inspire the design of products and services.

How is design research conducted?

Design research is conducted through various methods, ranging from observational studies and interviews to surveys and usability testing, often utilizing a mix of qualitative and quantitative approaches.

What is a Design Researcher?

A design researcher is a professional who specializes in uncovering user needs and translating these findings into actionable insights that drive the design process forward.

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