Research vs. Example based approach

In our careers as designers we can find ourselves in situations where quick results are expected. When I come up with solutions for a design problem, I personally prefer to take the research based approach. This is my background, and I stick to it.

In our careers as designers we can find ourselves in situations where quick results are expected. When I come up with solutions for a design problem, I personally prefer to take the research based approach. This is my background, and I stick to it.

A research based approach

I prefer the research based approach for following reasons:

  • A research based approach allows me to design in the context of the objectives set by the organization I am working with
  • The designs and solutions I come up with are original. There is a process to it, and it’s documented. I basically create intellectual property, that can be legally protected, is patentable, or can be trademarked.
  • From a design management perspective the solution is like a tailor made suit, as such it is part of an organization’s brand, identity, and its values.
  • It allows me to innovate. In the context of innovation it’s part of organizational positioning, and becomes a competitive differentiator on the market.

The price to pay for a research based approach is that it takes time, and there is also the thing known as analysis-paraysis. Clearly, the more people collaborate on generating the insights, the faster can be iterated.

When working with this approach it’s good to keep in mind to not overanalyze things, but just do, and iterate, generate new insights, and work on the next version.

The example based approach

The example based approach is one where designers look at similar products on the market and copy the design they (or the stakeholders) like.

This approach is often found in start-up environments, and/or when working with entrepreneurs that follow by the tenet “fail fast”.

It’s something I came to observe when working with companies in the Bay area, and comparing different apps that basically do the exact same thing, but look different (I found it even more interesting when researching the companies behind these products, which often were all located in the Bay Area).

While it can be a good approach, to generate almost instant results for the reasons mentioned above, I personally think it’s not the right approach in each setting.

Designers have to keep in mind that their works are intellectual property. By copying a design (and I’m not only talking about how things look, or animate) it can easily happen that a copyright is infringed.

Besides, a copied design might work for one organization, because it works in their eco system, and is tailored to their organizational goals. Copying a design as such does not guarantee that it will be successfull.

However, to avoid potential analysis paralysis, its a good approach to start with a first version, test, research, and iterate from there.

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