Understanding your users or customers is foundational to creating successful products and services. Design Research is a type of user research or consumer research that helps you understand not just what they think they want, but what they don’t yet know they need.

These behavior-based, ethnography-inspired observational research methods lay the groundwork for your future efforts and potential customers—whether you’re looking to craft a new marketing strategy for an upcoming launch, embark on product development concepts, come up with new product ideas, or identify an unmet customer need in your target market.

Highland team working on a project

Why in-depth behavioral research?

Every aspect of your product is influenced by the people you design it for. Through qualitative research and methodologies steeped in understanding how people actually behave—not just what they say they do—this type of ethnographic research allows you to explore and uncover needs and hone in on customer priorities and behaviors to improve usability.

Unlike traditional market research methods such as focus groups, questionnaires, and quantitative studies, exploratory and qualitative research studies are grounded in ethnography and help us go deeper into the why: what drives various audiences’ motivations, how they make decisions, why they struggle with certain problems. Using research methods like in-depth interviews, in-home visits, and contextual fieldwork to gain a detailed level of insight is extremely valuable. Such clarity on user behavior is a hallmark of ethnographic research and not commonly gleaned from quant survey respondents or data analysis.

Peek into the context of your target audience

Qualitative research, or primary research, is an important part of the new product discovery process as it reveals previously unknown or hidden insights into a user's experience with new or existing products and services. By observing users or customers in their own environments or natural settings, Exploratory Design Research enables you to:

  • Ask open-ended questions that result in accidental discoveries and valuable insights
  • Observe user behavior in-person or in their own natural environment through mobile ethnography and grasp the bigger picture
  • Utilize this research data to understand problems your users are facing and what’s driving their decisions
  • Synthesize all information gathered to better understand the cause and effect relationships of user behaviors.

Define a research-informed strategy

When we work on crafting a new product, defining a new value proposition, or working out a market segmentation, we start by taking a step back and looking at the problems that need solving. Most new products and services fail because they don't target a need that a customer finds important enough to solve, or they solve the need in a way that doesn't fit easily into the context of the customer's experience. It’s vital to think in terms of the end user.

Exploratory design research solves for this. It’s an ethnographic market research tool that can provide the building blocks for a research-informed strategy, allowing you to:

  • Uncover more conclusive results around consumer behavior and how your target audience will use your product
  • Be sure of how deep the pain points or opportunities are, how much value users stand to gain, and inform your business decisions
  • Begin idea generation or developing solutions with stakeholders that are better aligned with these needs and decision-making behaviors
  • Gain competitive advantage, refine your hypotheses, and determine ways to scale qualitative market research findings through quantitative research or secondary data collection.

Getting started with behavioral research

Clarity on users’ or customers’ needs, motivations, and behaviors helps you identify a coherent vision, informs business decisions you make on your path to innovation, and ultimately allows you to create products, services, and experiences people will purchase and use. Ethnographic, behavioral research will help you truly understand your customers and their experiences with valuable customer insights.

For exploratory research projects, we mostly choose methods that put us in users’ natural environments. Home use tests allow us to understand people in context and observe differences between what people say and what they actually do. Qualitative research methods inspired by ethnographic studies are the best way to achieve this because they allow the most access to people, and going deeper into their 'why.'

Read more here about how our full service research team chooses from various available methods for different research needs and and market research services.

A visual framework describing various research methods based on whether the user context is accessible and if the behavior is momentary or prolonged.
Case Study:  

Children's Hospital of Wisconsin

We worked with the USA paediatric hospital, Children’s Wisconsin, to improve their mental healthcare services. Our in-depth research provided a deep insight into the actual experience and needs of parents and children.

Through ethnographic research with parents and children who did and did not seek mental health care, we were able to uncover the context and motivations around a parent’s decision to reach out for help. This research process proved invaluable as it dispelled previously-held assumptions and enabled Children’s to redirect millions of dollars from a particular campaign and into innovative new services.

Read the case study in full
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