Generative research is the forgotten man of design research. It is often leapfrogged when discovery research is complete or is not even considered as the project stalls. Its absence can be the reason the project stalls and that is what I want to talk about here.
The first stage of a product development is discovery research. It identifies the unmet needs that a proposed proposition might address. If, not when, those needs have been identified the proposition under consideration progresses.
The next stage in the product development process should be generative research. I mentioned earlier it can be leapfrogged, and that is because people can find it hard to avoid solutionizing during discovery. If they think they know the answer they jump straight into prototyping. They may of course know “an answer” but generative research will offer some alternatives. They may be better, and if they are not adopted here they never will be – see Bias & Mayhew.
Why projects stall
Discovery research is the divergent stage, made popular by the Design Council’s “Double-Diamond“. By it’s nature it brings a lot of opportunity into the project and not always entirely aligned with the original idea. It can be a challenge to work out what to do with all the insight.
I have sat in more than one playback session following discovery research where the client team is uncertain. In many ways, this is a failure of our engagement because we have not explained the role and value of generative research well enough. It can of course also be that the client hasn’t budgeted for another research stage and expects to be able to design things following discovery. In either case, the project can stall.
This is exactly where generative research fits in. This stage literally “generates” the design ideas that can be taken into prototyping or service design. I like to think of it as the following steps:
- Discovery research defines the problem/s
- Generative research defines the solution/s
- Prototyping presents the solution/s
Without generative research the project can stall and worse go straight into design. That is when “User Experience design” becomes just “Experience design”, the USER is lost.
If you are getting stuck with insight that you cannot work out how to develop solutions from turn to generative research. It will transform your product development process by uncovering solutions, speeding up decision making, delivering more customer centric products.