The 3 roles of research

3 Line Friends

If we embrace a human-centered philosophy as we build digital products, then engaging with our customers – “research” – can create value in three ways.

Foundational/generative/ethnographic research can tell us what our customers and users value, how they get stuff done and what they currently struggle with. When we know that we can ideate around how we can help them become better at what they do, with the help of our product.

Quant approaches for foundational research (which can tell us what people do) include web traffic analytics and search engine keyword analysis. Qualitative methods (which can tell us why people do things) include discovery interviews and shadowing persons as they go about their business.

Concept validation helps us understand if our ideas for new products actually help our customers become better at what they do.

Qual methods include co-creating storyboards and observing the customer use low-fidelity prototypes as they do real stuff. Quantitative approaches include “fake” landing pages (although these only help understand desire) and Wizard of Oz tests.

Usability tests help us make sure that the product is usable, I.E. understandable and attractive.

Qualitative methods include observing customers as they perform prescribed tasks. On the quant side A/B tests and heat maps help us understand a product’s usability.

Creating a foundation, validating ideas and ensuring usability is where research with customers can provide value when we create digital products.

Defining a product

Part 3 of 5 in the series Human-centered product design in 2019.

Pusheen watching movie on phone

What is needed to define a digital product? And which are some 2019 job role titles that does the needed work?

Pusheen by Claire Belton.

* “In this context, ethnographic research is the study of how people live their lives in order to better understand their behavior, motivations, needs and aspirational wants to inspire new design. This approach is comprised of various methods including interviews, observations, role-playing games and journey mapping.”
– Ovetta Sampson, IDEO Chicago and DePaul University, 2018 EPIC Proceedings, ISSN 1559-8918,

Published and updated in product discovery.