In Designing for Interaction: Design Research, Dan Saffer explains that design research is, "the act of investigating...a product's or service's potential or existing users and the context of use." It overview various methods and techniques of design research. It divides design research into qualitative (subjective, smaller, asks why and how) and quantitative (large, random, statistically significant and asks what). Quantitative often results in numerical answers, while qualitative research takes form through pictures, images and interpretive data. Qualitative is used by interactive designers and answers motivations, expectations, and behaviors. It is important for the designer to generate research at the beginning of a project to enable empathy with the user. "Good design research functions as a springboard for the designer's creativity and values." A designer must set apart their own opinion and biases in order to understand accurately. It is difficult to predict how the audience will respond to any given design without research. One must find a way of identifying beliefs, practices, attitudes, hopes, and fears. Careful examination yields actionable results and this knowledge is power. Page 3 discusses the methods of gathering design research. It tells the viewer to go to the subject, talk with them and write it down. Treating the subject ethically will improve results and should follow the guidelines of; obtaining an informed consent from the subject, explaining the risks and benefits of the study, respecting privacy, paying for their time, and providing data and research results to subject. A designer should identify patterns and unusual behavior (phenomena). "See or hear it once, it's a phenomenon. Write it down, see or hear it twice, it's either a coincidence or a pattern emerging. Write it down, see it or hear it three times, it's a pattern. Write it down." Field notes are another important aspect of gathering accurate research. Begin with the name of the person doing the research and the day, time, as well as place where the research is taking place, take exact quotes with indications of emphasis and tone, sketch the location, annotate comments/details, include the history, steps and context of activity.
Christopher Ireland states in the introduction of Design Research, that it is important for a designer to identify, observe and interpret human behaviors, cultures and belief systems as well as attitudes toward design through skills and perspectives that one cannot always learn through formal education. Learning and experiencing the audience is paramount to an effective design. This is identified as qualitative design research. Lead a discussion, understand their point of view, be realistic, ask "what if" questions and experiment. These methods can be approached within a focus group.
In Design Research, Tim Plowman elaborates on techniques of design research in "Ethnography and Critical Design Practice". Enthnogaphy (the detailed study of a small group of people in their own environment) originated in anthropology which is the study how people experience and make sense of the actions of others as well as their own; culture, human behavior. It is difficult for anyone to identify how and to what extend we shape the culture around us through behavior, feeling thought, actions, communication, understanding, consumption and interactions, which makes accurate analysis an intricate problem. A designer must understand how the user interacts and experiences a design. One of anthropology's founding figures referred, Bronislaw Malinowski referred to a perspective that can only understood through the action of living among a specific group of people for an extended period of time as "the imponderabilia of actual life." This firsthand method of gathering information is critical to accurate and effective design. In fact, it produces "materialized ideologies" or designed artifacts that help "to create our subjective experience through the acts of attracting attention, interpretation and behavior.
Note: Do not become an armchair designer.
Like industrial design, graphic design should both help and delight people. "The relation between products and how people construct ideals of human happiness and studies of technological innovation on which to base proposals for social policies or legislation that would link human well being to the presence or absence of particular products" calls for intensive research preceeding the planning, crafting, manufacturing and assessment of design.