Let’s first start of by clearly defining these two terms. Jon Kolko’s, Exposing the Magic of Design, includes a clear explanation of the similarities and differences of the two in a simple table I have re-created below. (I recommend exploring the rest of this book as it is a fascinating read.)
|Design Research||Market Research|
|Focuses on people||Focuses on people|
|Can be qualitative or quantitative||Can be qualitative or quantitative|
|Borrows from the behavioral and social sciences||Borrows from the behavioral and social sciences|
|Attempts to understand culture. Looks at the styles, words, tools, and workarounds people use in an effort to inspire design.||Attempts to predict behavior. Looks at what people say they would do, or what they actually do, in an effort to predict what they would do in a new situation.|
|Celebrates the unique and peculiar. The rare or obscure in observations can lead to a new or interesting design idea.||Avoids the unique and peculiar. The goal is to understand mass responses; outliers are frequently ignored.|
|Avoiding bias is irrelevant. The goal is not to be objective but to instead to be rigorous.||Avoiding bias is critical. The statistical analyses of data require an objective point of view.|
In this world, I believe the key is niche markets. It is now more than ever, possible to sell extremely specialized goods and services to very specific markets. The evolution of technology has made this a reality with the quick and many ways or reaching the people you want to reach. More so, allowing users the power to find and acquire the goods and services they want for specific needs. (hello, Pinterest anyone?!)
This is why design research and thinking are relevant. Its the subtleties that matter, alot. Uncovering those workarounds is crucial and just cannot be captured through traditional market research methods. Surveys are convenient, but rarely reveal genuine behavior of the user. Many times the user is in an unfamiliar environment, and it is all about context. Isolating one bit of the experience blinds you from the whole story. Do you just read the last chapter of a book? No, you want the whole story, the process, the detours, and the stumbles, the “good stuff”.
The underlying goals are different. Design research seeks inspiration for design (either formative or evaluative), while market research predicts behaviors (Kolko 31). Both types of research have their purposes and value, but it is important to discern when and where to use them.
I love discovering unique opportunities to make a positive change in a person’s life. I crave being immersed into a complete experience or culture to find inspiration!
This topic segways nicely into Design Thinking which is a another animal to dissect in a future post. Briefly put, it is where Analytical Thinking overlaps with Intuitive Thinking, resulting in a 50/50 mix of validity and reliability. (visualized below courtesy of Roger Martin.)
Just for fun…check out SNL Taste Test!
Kolko, Jon. “The Value of Synthesis in Driving Innovation.” Exposing the magic of design: a practitioner’s guide to the methods and theory of synthesis. New York: Oxford University Press, 2011. 31-32. Print.
“Design Thinking” and Innovation: Part 1/2 : Mutually Human Software : Custom Software Strategy and Design, Mobile, Web Application, Product & Service, Software Craftsmanship, Ruby on Rails, Grand Rapids, Michigan.” Mutually Human Software : Custom Software Strategy and Design, Mobile, Web Application, Product & Service, Software Craftsmanship, Ruby on Rails, Grand Rapids, Michigan. N.p., n.d. Web. 7 Mar. 2012. <http://mutuallyhuman.com/blog/2011/10/31/design-thinking-and-innovation-part-1-2>.