IDSA Northern Ohio Chapter organized a panel discussion for their meeting on Dec 6, 2011 along with Balance Inc. The panel was moderated by Lextant’s own Marty Gage, Vice President of Design Research. Jim Couch, VP of Business Development at Lextant attended as well as myself, Monica Weiler, a User Experience Design Associate here at Lextant.
Panelists for the evening included:
Judy Riley - VP of Global Design, Moen
Jeff Hyde - Managing Director, Ideas in Focus
Dave Loomis - Director of Consulting Services, NACCO Industries
Linda Wagner - Director of Research, Carbon Design Group.
The evening’s topic was User-Centric Research and the trigger question used to stoke discussion was a quote by Henry Ford- “If I’d asked people what they wanted, they would have said ‘a faster horse.’”
And so the questions arose: Can consumers lead us to innovative solutions or do they stifle creativity? Can you create a truly successful product experience without involving the end-user in the design process? Marty asked the panelists- “How do you define user-centered research”? One of the first definitions the panelists gave was simple- involving the end user in the design process. How do we go about involving the user in the design process? At what point do we involve them and how much? The panel discussed ethnographic research methods such as in-home observations, one-on-one in-depth interviews, using webcam to interview and to observe a typical day in the life of a user. One person mentioned they thought the researcher should be an advocate for the user’s voice throughout the design process. By the end of the discussion there was a general agreement that the users don’t necessarily inform us about what the product will ultimately look like or what technology components can accomplish it. However, the users definitely help inform and inspire design in sharing what their needs and aspirations are. The panel agreed that this type of user-centered approach to design has proven to create not just successful products but successful product experiences. There is a trend where large consumer product industries are investing more and more resources into user-centric research.
Design research and user experience research firms like Lextant are constantly developing innovative participatory methodologies in order to appropriately capture users aspirations and dreams for an ideal experience. This recent IDSA panel discussion seemed to reiterate the value and position of design research and user experience research in the competitive world of product design and development- today and for many more days to come.