Posted 14 Jul 2010 - No Comments - leave yours now!
Everyday we are bombarded by a constant stream of information. Strangely enough most of us don’t really notice it anymore. Everything is reduced to an odd ‘humming’ background noise. If a message is particularly interesting or presented in an original way we tune into it and take notice.
Research is probably easier to conduct now than at any other time in history, the wealth of information that is readily available is astonishing. It’s not a case of knowing where to look anymore, it’s now a case knowing how to interpret the information that is floating about.
When embarking on research I like to remind myself of my History lessons at school. Historians have a way of classifying their research sources as Primary and Secondary.
Information that is the result of first hand information. This could mean historical and legal documents, eye witness accounts, statistical data and collected objects.
Or in a design context: Client interviews, demographic surveys, past samples of design. current trends, basically anything that the designer can observe first hand.
Something that refers to a primary source. This usually includes articles that discuss the findings of others, or theorise on previous information.
Examples in a design context might include: Blog/design related articles upon a certain subject and found design examples that were not collected by yourself.
The general consensus is that Primary Sources of research are more reliable because Secondary Sources are tainted with ‘opinion’.
It’s always good to get information ‘straight from the horses mouth’, pure and unsullied so you can form your own opinions on the facts. However, there is something to be said for comparing your own findings with others to get a rounded perspective on things.
I believe it’s important to clarify your own thoughts before letting further information influence it.
For example: I would conduct a client meeting and get as much information from them directly (Primary Source) before trawling the internet (Secondary Source) for further research.
Where are the best places to find information? It’s quite a simple question, with a very easy answer. Everything is a source! Simply by living life do we learn things, almost by osmosis. However for more specific fact finding there are some sources that I consider mainstays.
Your best and most readily available source of information is the client you are working for. They know their own business best, usually they know what they want to communicate to their audience, it’s the designers job to work out the best way to relate that message.
If you are working for a large company, don’t be afraid to broaden your contact with the people that work there. Just because one person in the company is your main contact, you should ask permission to have discussions with people that work at every level. The employees working at the bottom of the heirachy will have a different perspective on your project from the people directly asking you to do the work.
This idea can be extended further by conducting interviews with other companies/organisations that work directly with your client. This will depend on the nature of your clients business. By asking questions of how your client deals with it’s suppliers etc. you might reveal problems or perspectives that are unknown to the client themselves.
It’s important to assess how your client is currently seen by it’s customers, if you are trying to change it’s image via design. Some simple market research conducted with your clients customers can be very helpful in realising problems that need to be addressed. You might also find out aspects of the business that need to be accentuated because the client is doing something right.
The key to this process is to be as friendly as possible, try to conduct the research away from or outside your clients place of business so that the customer can feel like they can be honest.
If the client is looking to tap into a new demographic it is also useful to canvas a few people within it . Ask how they react to the clients current image and make suggestions on how it might be changed to appeal to them.
Taking a look at the direct competition of your client is probably catagorised as a Secondary Source. It’s very unlikely that you will be able to contact them directly to find out some of the information you want. It’s not in their interest to help your client, so you have to make do with what can be seen from the outside looking in.
Everyone knows what a powerful tool the internet is. At the touch of a few buttons you can find out so much, but you need to be more concerned with the quality of your information not the quantity that’s available.
You need to be wary of the internet making you lazy. If you relied solely on internet research I’d be willing to wager that your findings will be cosmetic and shallow.
On the flip-side of things the internet makes one part of my design research a lot easier. Once I’ve assembled my Primary Source research on my client I like to trawl the internet to put my findings in context by comparing it to similar industries away from the local area of the client.
Social networking is also something that has helped me recently, post a question on twitter about the industry your client operates in and you’ll be surprised how many helpful replies you can get.
Libraries / Museums / Public Records / Galleries
Don’t be afraid to leave your desk! There is a wealth of information beyond the internet and your client, it might not seem directly related to the project you’re working on but you never know where and when inspiration might strike and what will trigger it.
Make it part of your working and social life to visit museums and galleries, it will enrich your general knowledge and possibly your work.
Let me know where you go to do your research. Do you process it according to it’s source? Can you make any further suggestion on ways I can expand my research?
This article is part of a series of posts concerning research for graphic design projects.
Articles in this series:
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