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Breakpoint currently unavailable. I'm working hard to this happen, I PROMISE.

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A post by
Kaisa Björkman
Q+A SERIES
May 10, 2024

Navigating the seas of product development: Why research is your compass

Navigating the seas of product development: Why research is your compass

A post by
Kaisa Björkman
May 10, 2024
XX
min read

Innovation can only happen when research is intertwined in product design and development.

The above statement might ruffle some feathers, however,  we want to push our users into the future rather than build what they say they want at face value - innovation involves ideas users may not have conceived of or understood that they need yet. Research activities performed by qualified and experienced researchers who bring their understanding of human-computer interaction, psychology, anthropology, strategy and design to the fore are critical to ensure we, and the users, are thinking past what is already there. 

At Ostmodern we believe in research as a foundation for strategy and design, not as reporting. 

We (the industry) have made significant progress, moving from a time where every research initiative needed to be advocated for  (no matter how small ), to the point where the industry now largely acknowledges the importance of sound research and its impact on products and services. This is both a victory and a new challenge for the field.

On one side of the spectrum, there’s widespread recognition that investing in research substantially enhances businesses’ return on investment. On the flip side, there’s a growing tendency for research to become a superficial tick-box exercise, or a bolted-on phase, for companies that hastily adopt the practice without delving into how to leverage research for their unique circumstance. 

Much like today's digital product landscape widely embracing agile as the preferred product development approach, at Ostmodern, we champion the concept of continuous learning throughout each of our projects. This introspection is critical for keeping our bias in check and truly understanding how our decisions will influence the overall experience of the product or service we're building. 

Why limit learning to the discovery phase of a project, despite embracing continuous learning and feedback loops in most other aspects of life?

When starting a new project, it's not uncommon for businesses to already have established customer/user segments, personas, and general research. This is fantastic, as it indicates a commitment to putting users at the core of decision-making. 

The existing research often provides a solid foundation for us to further expand our knowledge base. However, a recurring pattern we observe is that businesses often commission research during the initial phases of development and then continue referencing that research for several years—spanning the build and in-flight phases. 

While considering what users have expressed in the past has its merits, it's essential to recognise the fact that circumstances and user needs will evolve over time. Failing to update or question the relevance of older research means decision-makers are basing decisions on insights gathered years ago, running a very real, and often inevitable, risk of missing out on valuable and current perspectives that ultimately harm the product or service.

Relying extensively on outdated research poses a substantial risk of inadvertently nurturing bias within decision-making processes. When consistently referencing old research, these historical findings can transform into personal "darlings" that are cherished and defended, hindering a willingness to question or reassess their relevance. As the information becomes ingrained in decision-makers viewpoints, shifts in user needs, market dynamics, or technological advancements can be missed. 

Embracing a culture of continuous enquiry and updating research findings regularly  ensures a more dynamic and unbiased foundation for decision-making in the ever-evolving product development and innovation space.

How the benefits of Continuous Learning are felt across the business 

Having a continuous approach to research benefits not only the product/service but also the design and development process. 

Continuous research and subsequent interrogation of our choices, biases and priorities as a project team helps us hold a collaborative, user-centric mindset and reminds us to ‘kill our darlings’ (just an expression  people - promise). This process ensures a streamlined, focused, and efficient development cycle, allowing for the emergence of the most potent and impactful aspects of the product. By prioritising the project's overarching objectives over personal attachments or biases, teams can foster innovation, enhance user experience, and ultimately deliver a product that stands out in its excellence.

Let's consider how user research can help with specific areas of a business.

Technical

Continuous user research contributes to the identification of usability issues and potential improvements early in the development cycle. By addressing these concerns promptly, technology teams can optimise the functionality and design of their products, ultimately saving time and resources, as well as user frustration.

Design

For design teams, the value of this continuous learning approach plays a pivotal role in design iterations and the validation of design decisions. It is also immensely helpful to understand and identify user trends and pain points. 

Business strategy

Continuous learning helps businesses make informed decisions, identify market opportunities, define competitive advantages and manage the product life cycle. This in turn helps enhance customer satisfaction,  mitigate risks and adapt to changing markets. 

Content and tone of voice

Implementing continuous feedback loops and research initiatives aids a more targeted and effective tone of voice. By understanding the language and motivations of the audience, teams can tailor the communication strategies to resonate with customers and improve the user experience from a copy perspective. 

In conclusion, continuous research provides an unbiased reflection akin to cleaning your telescope before stargazing. Removing distortions not only helps us clearly track trajectories and current positioning, but it ensures a clear view of distant possibilities, allowing us to navigate unchartered territories with precision. This is how innovation is fostered: the sky's the limit.

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