Design driven research is increasingly being demanded of design consultants. This is particularly evident in projects that are to be deployed in emerging markets, such as those found in Africa. A common term used to describe this form of research is ethnography, however it is the coupling of design to research, that makes the findings particularly insightful to clients. Design driven research pays particular attention to identifying a user or market's emotional and functional aspirations, and unlike some traditional ethnographic approaches, it does not assume that emotional characteristics drive function or vice-verse. It aims to discover the subtle or unidentified semiotics (symbolism), indigenous knowledge and changing cultural norms that define an individuals livelihood. The tasks below indicate the key research services that I can provide, and which aim to ensure that data gathered during the research are truly in-depth and contextually relevant.
Design is concerned with innovation, but rather than making a singular innovative leap, it is about ensuring that a variety of factors in a given system are interrelated and collectively improved. Although a variety of design methodologies can be used, the basic approach of design is to challenge assumptions in the form of divergence (opening up and exploring) and then consolidating these findings by convergence (closing in and focusing). It is a controlled process that manages risk rather than avoiding it, and in doing so helps companies navigate competitive and global markets whilst being cognisant of very real constraints, such as client budgets, fixed milestones and team dynamics. The tasks below indicate the key design services that I can provide, and which aim to ensure that your ideas reach the market on-time and within budget.
A detailed understanding of what a research project is required to answer is outlined in a research design. The client frequently provides the research problem and to some degree the research questions, but the research design itself requires detailed consideration to ensure the quality of information ultimately obtained is truly informative and representative. I work primarily with qualitative research, and can source quantitative expertise as required.
Before carrying out research in the market place or with communities, a review of existing literature is required. This exploration will help focus the research problem and build on prior research, rather than duplicate it. Depending on the type of research you require, existing information can be obtained from resources such as websites, archives, academic databases and client records. Key findings and trends are collated into a report to guide the project.
ACCESSING THE FIELD
Meeting key individuals and communities in African markets is frequently a hurdle for international companies. However, there is a mature yet informal network which can be accessed, and which can link corporate teams with on-the-ground stakeholders.
Supported with evidence from prior research, and guided by the research design, the fieldwork phase can commence. Surveys, in-depth interviews and workshops are common methods to obtain key insights from the field. However, it is worthwhile noting that participant research fatigue, which is increasingly common in emerging markets, may require more innovative methods and data gathering instruments to obtain relevant and in-depth insight.
Data collation should be carried out in a manner that facilitates subsequent analysis and synthesis. In markets that have very little existing data, or the culture may be unfamiliar, a grounded theory methodology can be used to identify subtle patterns.
Excessive raw data may confuse a project team if presented inappropriately. Design driven research methods can help translate this information to teams in a manner that retains an authentic link with the context in which the data was obtained.
Innovative ideas are often abstract and cannot be communicated with words alone. Fortunately, a variety of design methods are available to visualise and compare ideas, and in doing so, ensure that opportunities are incorporated into the project as early as possible. Depending on your design requirement, ideation methods range from design-storming workshops (variation of brain storming) to hand drawn sketches and photo-realistic renderings.
Linking cultural aspirations, ergonomics, new technologies, and manufacturing methods occur under the banner of industrial design. Ensuring how these factors remain financially and environmentally sustainable in a mass production environment, is the responsibility of the industrial designer. Such requirements concern not only consumer products, but also industrial and medical devices, where subtle design decisions can encourage product uptake.
Far from being solely concerned with aesthetics, graphic design communicates an organisation’s brand values and increasingly, a product functionality. It can be embedded within a user's first experience with your product, be it in the form of a website interface, transportation packaging or instruction manual. Depending on your products global footprint, graphic design can allow diverse cultures and languages to interact with a common product.
The benefits of a website are known from a retail perspective, though perhaps less so from a product development one. Rather than being used to sell a final design, a secure and membership driven website can also facilitate initial market feedback on prototype usage, remotely monitor project performance and even trial e-commerce models. I have successfully deployed this approach for clients with an international staff complement and market.
BUDGETING / COST MODELS
Balancing design costs with market opportunities is perhaps the greatest new product development challenge facing clients. To help mitigate such risk, design and manufacturing costs can be presented relatively early in the project. Minimum and maximum costs can be presented which will provide some clarity on design costs, Non-Recurring Engineering (NRE) costs, and what manufacturing costs can be expected and which design route is the most promising.
Closely tied to industrial design is mechanical design, and which integrates the following into a tangible solution: key technologies, detailed mechanism design, manufacturing processes, value chains, environmental impact requirements, quality standards and health and safety directives. For those mechanical engineering requirements such as Finite Element Analysis (FEM) or similar calculations, I can introduce you to the appropriate network.
QUALITY STANDARDS / DIRECTIVES
Understanding how a product should comply with quality and safety directives will influence the expected lifespan of the project, and in many cases, in which country it can be sold. To help you determine this, I have extensive experience with Ingress Protection (IP), Electrostatic Discharge (ESD), International Organization for Standardisation (ISO), Conformité Européenne (CE), Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) and Restriction of Hazardous Substances (RoHS).
PROTOTYPING / TESTING
Design has many assumptions which need to be tested and measured for compliance with the brief's objectives. Testing can be carried out with Computer Aided Design (CAD) simulations, although in most cases it is preferable to test a physical prototype in the environment in which it is expected to function. Apart from running simulations to test compliance with quality and standards and directives, a physical prototype allows for initial market testing.
Although a manufacturing process will have been identified during the industrial and mechanical design project phases, the logistics surrounding manufacturing require detailed consideration. Key areas that require consideration include supplier audits, quality conformity documentation and, increasingly relevant in a globalised world, how a combination of international and local suppliers can be leveraged to achieve project budgets and milestones.