by Adam Taylor, Senior Designer at Chalkbox
Whether you are partnering with a designer who specializes in brand development, UI, print, or any other subset of the ever-expanding design field, their output will be the result of a process. And while each designer and studio takes a different approach, we believe the best processes have several things in common: They are comprehensive and thoughtful. They feature defined steps or stages. And they include research.
Designers sometimes leave out that critical research component, however—and because clients often don’t understand its importance, they might not ask why research isn’t part of the process. (That is, if they even notice its omission at all.)
So what do we mean by research? And why does it matter?
Research is the deep informational dive that we believe should precede all creative work. At Chalkbox, we use it to focus on building a deeper understanding of a client’s business, gaining more insight about a particular target audience, and looking closely at the visual landscape of a client’s competitors. In broad strokes, the research phase helps us understand what we need to create— and just as important, it also offers clues about what NOT to create.
For example, when we design a visual brand, the information we gain through intensive research provides a foundation for our idea generation and sketching. It helps us identify and move beyond easy clichés and other common ideas, allowing us to focus on more interesting and unique concepts. It also helps us build concepts that are appropriate for a particular business, audience, and competitive landscape.
When we worked with Emerald Pacific Yachts to redesign the company’s identity, we researched its local and national competition, as well as suppliers such as boat manufacturers, to understand what was expected visually in the industry. It quickly became clear that Emerald Pacific lagged behind competitors when it came to the look and feel of its brand. Even though the company’s service, knowledge, and customer experience is very highly regarded, its website and other materials didn’t necessarily reflect that standing. The new identity we created is upscale, refined, and immediately communicates credibility.
Better user experience
Similarly, in web and application design, the research phase helps designers understand deeply who the site users are, what information they’ll be looking for, and what kind of experience they need. This includes evaluation of competitors and the experience they provide as well.
We followed this approach as we completed a new website and navigation for WWC Global (after creating the company’s new brand identity). We identified the three primary categories of visitors who would be using the site, and then charted their likely paths to create journeys that are intuitive, efficient, and fruitful. These journeys also adhere to the expectations WWC’s clients and potential clients have in the firm’s very competitive space.
Research also provides an opportunity for designers to work more closely with clients—which aligns perfectly with our collaborative approach at Chalkbox. We believe clients always should be included in the research process, both as a source and a collaborator, and findings should be shared with them as well.
Clients inevitably know more about their own business, competitors, and audience than we do, but our findings often are surprising to them. That brings us to another benefit of research—it provides a valuable outside perspective, as long as the designer is willing to present what may be some unpleasant truths. Because of their close proximity to the business, the judgment and vision of owners and employees frequently is clouded; we consider it a crucial part of our job to help them see past preconceived notions, both positive and negative.
Is research a part of your project?
If you are searching for a design partner, be sure to ask about their process before you make a selection. Is research included? Is it treated as a vital component, and not just something to check off the list? Don’t hesitate to ask deeper questions—the way a designer responds to your concerns before a project even begins is a great indication of how collaborative their approach will be.
We’d love to collaborate with you on your next project—and we’re happy to talk more about our process, too. You can get in touch with us here.