What do design researcher's [b]job portfolio[/b] look like?

What do design researcher’s job portfolio look like?
Do you design objects based on your research and show all these processes as a booklet? Or do you just show the finalized research result?

Good question. I would love to hear other people’s responses.

In my experience, it depends on the client and project. Clients often want the “bottom line” recommendations on what to do. As a researcher, I don’t generally provide more than a suggestive mock-up if it is an interface. I mostly work with interface design. I’ve worked with product consultancies, but never in one, so I don’t know the process how research is translated into deliverables there.

The big issue with design research is “what next”? I have done user evaluations of several product design alternatives, and simply told the client how the alternatives fared in different respects (men thought this one looked too girly, young people thought this looked too old.) The client needs to figure out what is important to them, so I don’t make a specific recommendation in such cases.

A lot of research is exploratory, for the “fuzzy front end” of development. You may want to share insights into the lives of customers, what is important to them personally. It is very helpful to show video or photos from the lives of customers to get these insights accross. Writing seems to kill the freshness.

In general, I try to pick highlights from the research process to help the client understand how I have arrived at my insights. It is helpful to show what is involved in the process – there is often a lot of donkey work, and clients need to know how much effort has gone into getting the juicy bits you have distilled. Still, few clients want to hear every last detail of what you did. When that happens, either you are showing off, or they are micromanaging.

What about the experiences of others?

Hey, I’m back from a week’s vacation and am very disappointed to see that no one else has replied to an interesting query. Come on, share your experiences, whatever they are.

I did alot of user research, market research, technology research and company research in my university studies. I thought it would make an impact on interviewers, but often it didn’t.

I showed it by placing it in the context of the design project. In some cases it would be the first step of finding a new product oportunity, sometimes, as in real life, it was done to verify design decisions.

I would have images of my research locations, users, charts of interactions and how they relate, maps…whatever I really created to show the results of the research. Then I would back this up with text describing the process.

I tried to follow this up by mentioning the research in the next phases of the design process. (like mentioning how a concept was derived from seeing how users interacted with each other in a library that I stalked out). I don’t think I did that part successfully…and if I had it to do over (eventually I will), I would tie my research results into the project tightly. That way people understand that you didn’t do it just for your teachers sake, but your own…and it also shows the benefits of the research to non-designers.

btw: I’m looking forward to some responses too userinnovation!

Although I love doing research and came from a program that was very heavy on it as part of the curriculum, I have found that my bosses zone out and stop paying attention the second someone starts to show research related work in an interview.

The attitude is “right, don’t care show me the final product.” To be honest they don’t really seem to care about sketches either.

I find it very unfortunate that they have a lot of resources to really dive into a problem but instead have set up the company to get things done as fast as possible which removes all the r&d time. Instead the bosses just assure the clients that “we know what they want”. Bunch of bullshit if you ask me.

Great question.

In some respects the design researchers portfolio miight seem more limited because it’s focused on the research, which might seem more dull, text-based, etc.

In fact, the design researcher has the opportunity to tell a great story that is supported by data, and to describe the reasons for decisions.

For example a portfolio for a product desigin research project might include the following:

  1. Design brief - succinct explanation of what the project was attempting to achieve from a business/usability/design perspective

  2. User profile - Summary of key characteristics of target users with related photos, bringing to life who you are designing for.

  3. Research data - diagrams, video footage, photos of product in use that shows what you did and what you found. Including things that didnt make it through to the final design and why.

  4. Annotated final design - Highlight the key features of the design that were shaped by the product research.

Hope that helps!

This is a great question. And some good responses.

The thing about showing “research” is that it is an exercise in storytelling - not in drawing, painting or sculpting. Many designers I have interviewed have made nice or clever objects, but are crap storytellers.

The reason for this, is that storytelling is a time based medium. Training in the plastic arts does not equip one for storytelling unless that person has gotten training in it elsewhere, or has some rare and freakish natural talent for it. Even those with a talent for storytelling need training. (Just think about people who have a “knack for drawing”; even THEY need some training…)

A good story - like say, a murder mystery or ‘Hamlet’ - has a plot, you know, the thing with a beginning, a middle and an end. A good story begins with unresolved conflict, goes through some exposition about the characters involved, and finds its way to a couple of false resolutions and then to a proper resolution and epilogue or denouement. But even this is not enough. The storyteller also has to CARE enough about what she is telling in order to make the story compelling.

It is a mistake to think that interviewers simply tune out simply because of “research.” People tune out when “research” is presented as prefunctory and without a sense of story. People will not tune out to a compelling story. It is human nature to become riveted to something fascinating. You would do well to develop your storytelling skills (and there are many, many more narrative devices than what I mention here) and to take advantage of this.

Thanks alot for the input.
I am realizing more and more how important the design research is, yet I am just keep seeing people with portfolios without any processes and researches. It seems like lot of people are just showing the final objects or sleek rendered 3D graphics for the results without showing their messy process.
This is actually what I am worrying about. What if I spent so much of valuable time to find some brilliant concepts based on the design research, but those who might interview me don’t know or care about these research parts. It seems like many people are just looking for the finalized solution without thinking about “impossibility” or other “alternatives” to their finals.
Am I wrong or noticed just one side?

You might ask yourself then, whether or not you would want to work for people like that.
Would you be able to learn anything from them?
Would you be able to further your interest in design research in a place where it is not understood or appreciated?

Maybe as a student, you might think that you can not choose who to work for, but you can. And you should try…

Maybe is because you don’t explain it in terms they understand?

Remember that if this is in the context of corporate/consultant work, the people who tasked you to do the research want to understand the outcome as far as how it helps them accomplish their goals.

Here is something shocking, to me at least: some clients are more interested in the research than the final design.

I heard a lecture recently from a designer from a very large international design consultancy. She said that most design research never sees the light of day, because the window of opportunity is narrow, or good ideas just are not easy to do. Even so, clients really appreciate knowing the range of possibilities, even if they aren’t actionable in the context. Some clients really want to shop for ideas more than shop for finished designs.