Different Design Research Methodologies: An Introduction

The skills of a designer are one part of the puzzle, with research capability making up the more fundamental part of the role. If a designer cannot recognise what problem a design is solving, and who it aims to help, then it doesn’t matter how creatively innovative the design outcome is. It has already failed. There are different research design methodologies that make up the design research process, and all are comprehensive in their process to garner the potential to offer a clear user experience (UX) that understands the needs of its users.

Letís review some of these research design methodologies.


Primary research, as the name suggests, is about understanding what users you are designing for and what needs to be designed. This primary research design will involve the gathering of data, typically through interviews, focus groups, surveys and questionnaires. Any scenario in which a flow of ideas can happen organically and unprompted. From here, a greater understanding of the ideas that need to be explored will surface. Before any primary research design commences, there should be a set of parameters in place to group the findings to the broad project at hand.


Following the primary research, secondary research encompasses the inclusion of existing data. This data comes in the form of books, the internet, journals and articles. This will go on to validate or exclude the design choices you intend to use in your design. Given that the secondary research is supporting existing ideas as well as your own primary research, it is uncommon that your research ideas will change entirely, they will likely just get fine-tuned. Comparatively, this research method is one of the easiest to build so itís encouraged that you build a great body of research here.


Now that you are in the evaluative methodology stage, you can start to hone in on targeting that problem and evaluate whether your design usability will respond to the wants, desires and needs of your user. Simply put, can and will they use the design? There are two kinds of evaluative research methodologies – formative and summative. Formative is about the activity and how it improves with use – were they more successful using this model? Summative is outcomes driven, focused on what the design resulted in – was the outcome achieved?


Exploratory research is undertaking research on a topic that is new or very little is understood about that subject matter. This is entirely immersive research design, with the sole purpose of gaining a better insight to be used in future, often used to colour some context around an adjacent topic. This exploratory design will form a greater understanding of the validations and assumptions made about a sector or set of beliefs.


Generative research may be a methodology you havenít yet encountered, but itís a critical path taken by successful UX designers. When your research is compiled and laid out before you, generative research will guide you in deciding which solution you would like to pursue. By this stage, you should have a deep understanding of the user you are designing for, and have an idea on what solution will best serve their wants, needs and objectives. If you are not clear on these facts in this phase, you will need to revisit the previous four stages of research design.

You can make your research design as deep or light as you would like, but your product or service is deserving of a greater understanding. When you can create something that resonates with your user on a level deeper than just initial interest, you will have a powerful platform.