To solve a problem, you must first understand it. Designers helping users solve complicated problems—flying an airplane, replacing a human knee, streamlining a supply chain, or modeling the potential damage from a hurricane—must understand an incredible range of things, from new vocabulary to intricate procedures that require a specialized license or degree to perform. Regardless of the degree of technical difficulty, all design problems involve at least one complex variable: human behavior. Even something as simple as organizing a digital music collection requires knowing how much music someone has, how she mentally categorizes it, and how her listening behavior differs in various circumstances.
Research is a systematic study to establish facts. Designers do research not only to grasp new vocabulary and understand unfamiliar processes, but also to fathom the needs, views, and goals of the people building, selling, buying, using, and maintaining a product or service. The right kind of research will give you the information you need to make good decisions from the highest level (who is your audience and what should you build for them?) to the lowest (how many characters should you allow in a medication name field?). Figure 4.1 provides an overview of the research process.
Figure 4.1. Research process overview.
Is it possible to ...