Design Research

Illustration of a human, wearing a snorkel and goggles, swimming together with a dolphin.


Design research is a human-centred approach to research that uncovers insights about who your users are, the problems they are facing, and how they may interact with a product or service. This immersive approach aims to build researchers’ depth of understanding of user needs, goals and mental models, all in order to develop actionable insights and test out specific intervention ideas in the context in which they will be applied. A deeper appreciation for how participants experience a particular challenge allows interdisciplinary teams to set aside their own assumptions and gain real insight into user behaviors and their unmet needs. Design research outputs often allow researchers to follow their creative instincts towards emergent design solutions, rather than producing thick data-driven descriptions or scientific knowledge generation. Design research is typically used in the first stage of a longer series of activities that apply designers’ skillset and toolkit in iterative rounds of prototype development, user testing and refinement. All of these deploy qualitative research to continually gather user feedback to improve a product, service, strategy or change initiative.

Primary objective

This approach is especially useful to reframe existing or generate actionable design opportunities through empathetic, flexible and iterative research into unmet user needs.


Medium value

Reframe challenges and translate them into actionable insights and opportunities from the users’ perspectives.

Design, implementation and evaluation

Primary value

Inform the development and testing of various hypotheses for intervention design.

Low value

Seek user perspectives on intervention implementation

Adoption & scale

Medium value

Inform how an intervention may need to be adapted for a new context, market, or target user group.

Unique attributes

Strength in generating actionable insights through flexible participant recruitment and rapid research that allow researchers to follow their hunches and change their questions midway to pursue new information.

Biased towards action through enabling rich story-telling and visual representation, which are conducive for the generation of design-oriented inspiration. Iterative research ensures continuous user feedback throughout the entire process.

Aims to empathize with end-users through immersive research that gathers many different perspectives, including from outliers who have a unique relationship vis-a-vis the challenge or solution.