I recently relocated to the US of A so watched the All Blacks win the Rugby World Cup from afar. It was not only nerve-racking but a good reminder about the importance of not just having a game plan, but a plan for the entire tournament.
This is not just a necessity for rugby but also for conducting research and design. Reflecting on my experiences, I am often asked to come up with an approach to “win a game” but not to “win the tournament”. This can result in tactical approaches which may not always be the best for a product or service in the long term.
For example, we may be asked to conduct usability testing for a product that is being designed. Yes, there will be findings that will help improve the product and make it better than it was in the past, however, the product may have missed a large opportunity. Even worse, usability testing may be late in the process and uncover that the product does not even work for customers. This is an awful situation for the project team; release a sub-standard product or delay the project to do large amounts of rework.
So how can we think about research and design in a way that allows us to have both a tournament plan and individual game plans? We need to invest in both foundational as well as project specific research. Project research usually answers specific questions relating to the project. These questions are typically along the lines of “Will users know how to use this banking feature” or “What are users’ mental models for this service”. Foundational research on the other hand will answer questions more like “How do people perceive their finances” or “How is behavior different between people with respect to finances”.
Investing in foundational research is typically when you conduct research that is not specific to any one project but inputs into all projects. This is not just market research, it is also behavioural research. In practice, this may look like periodic exploratory research with customers to create evolving personas. Rather than have a personas project created specifically for a given project, these personas evolve over time and any project is able to use the most recent personas available.
Foundational research can be difficult within organisations as cost justification is often tied to a single project. Reflecting on recent discussions with clients both in New Zealand and the USA, I do think that times are changing and I am excited by it. As competition grows, organisations have to work harder to differentiate themselves. Part of creating sustainable differentiation is ensuring that what you do is difficult to replicate. Foundational research helps create the basis from which to create sustainable differentiation.
So next time when you are looking ahead to the next six or twelve months, consider more than just the projects you are going to do and the UX work you will do in each one. Think about the foundational research you could do to make your projects drive sustainable differentiation. And because we live in the real world and know that getting funding for stand-alone foundational research is not always possible, start today by tweaking your current project-based research to include some of those foundational questions.