Week 7: Research and Theory
Updated: Dec 10, 2020
This week is all about the research methodologies that designers can use to influence their design practices. While it may not seem like research and design go together, proper research—in the form of surveys, interviews, and user experience tests, and more—can lead to a more desired and effective final design.
This week's lecture was led by Martin Hosken. While it was only 28 minutes long, it was jam-packed with information and I found myself stopping and rewinding a fair amount just to ensure I understood everything he said.
He discussed a wide array of different research methodologies including quantitative and qualitative analysis. This got me thinking about the types of research I've employed in my own life. Most notably, during my undergraduate career, I worked with Kohl's corporate beauty department to aid them in moving their products into the hands of a younger audience. During my time on this project, my teammates and I developed a survey to better educate our views and back up our hypothesis. Before deploying our survey, we believed that making products more readily available through a mobile app would encourage greater purchasing numbers among those under 40 years of age.
Why am I discussing this project? First, I know that surveys are a useful tool for collecting data during the research phase of a project. However, I'm not sure what type of research this would be.
Qualitative surveys typically ask questions that focus on the user's emotions, the way in which they interact with something, or behaviors that motivate their decisions. Quantitative surveys are usually based on scales or numbering systems to determine ratings, the likelihood of a certain activity happening, or the frequency of something taking place. Based on these definitions, the Kohl's survey was quantitative.
Why was it quantitative?
To put it simply, the results collected from every question could be made into a bar or pie graph. Since our data was about quantities, it was a quantitative survey. Interestingly enough, we also had a few of our teammates go into Kohl's stores and perform in-person interviews to get more qualitative responses.
The second reason I thought it would be beneficial to reflect on this project is that it was a very real-life example of how research could be used for design. When we combined all of our data into usable assumptions about our target audience, we were able to develop an application wireframe from what we learned. I didn't realize it at the time, but this would definitely be considered a step in the UX/UI design process. By looking back on this project, I was able to give life to the research methodologies lecture presented by Martin Hosken and learn new ideas through the lens of my own experiences.
Of the three resources from this week, I found myself most drawn to the material covered in Visual research: an introduction to research methodologies in graphic design by Ian Noble and Russell Bestley. Within the section titled "Thinking Differently", the authors note that in addition to a designer's abilities, graphic design discussion also "now routinely includes reference to a diverse set of issues that include the designer's responsibilities in a social, cultural, and economic sense" (Noble and Bestley 2016).
This idea of holding designers to a higher standard than just their design work struck me as interesting, so I dug a little deeper.
What makes a graphic designer socially conscious? How can their designs be done in a more culturally appropriate way?
Design is an Avocado
Green Graphic Design by Brian Dogherty was exceptionally enlightening in this respect. The first chapter that caught my attention was "Design is an Avocado: The Layers of Green Design". According to Dogherty, a graphic designer's role can be broken into three layers, much like the layers of an avocado. The outer skin represents the designer as an individual who manipulates stuff. The fleshy, green insides are said to represent the designer as a message maker. Then, at its core, this designer/avocado analogy relates the seed to the designer being an agent of change (Dougherty and Celery Design Collaborative 2008).
When considering designers to be manipulators of stuff, the resources and materials that go into making things come into play. In order to be more socially aware of one's environmental impact, designers will often explore options that are eco-friendly for the production of their design. This can include recycled paper, nontoxic ink, or figuring out how to generate less waste.
Designers can also be seen as message makers. Whether it's an advertisement or logo that's being developed, the final product will say something to its viewers. In order to be culturally and socially aware, it's important to understand the message you are portraying. As such, when taking on projects, Dogherty notes that designers can also influence the companies and clients they work with by helping build brands on impactful and socially aware messaging.
Lastly, good design can be used to promote positive change in the world! Designers are given the unique power to influence consumers and companies to embrace certain degrees of change. This can lead to more eco-friendly purchasing decisions, socially aware messaging, and economically conscious spending tactics. As an agent of change, you are given the power to influence the actions of those around you, like your clients and peers.
Green Graphic Design also discussed the difficulties of being a socially aware graphic designer. In an effort to design more thoughtfully, there are often a multitude of roadblocks that get in the way of a positively impactful final result.
Roadblocks can sound like:
"We don't have time to research that."
"That will be too expensive."
"The client never asked for that."
As Dogherty puts it, "In order to design for change, we need to change the way we design" (Dougherty and Celery Design Collaborative 2008). As a means to adequately foresee any potential roadblocks, and in turn, be prepared to get past them, the book goes on to describe the process of "designing backwards." This thought process, or methodology, encourages designers to think about their final desired result and then working backward. By going over each step in a reversed fashion, it can be easier to find potential roadblocks. The knowledge gained through this process helps green design solutions make it further down the pipeline and into the final product since the designer is better equipped to get past any roadblocks.
The workshop challenge this week centered around the theme of research methodologies. We were tasked with choosing a single object, and then using any number of ways to tell its hidden story. When this was done, it was to be placed in a designed editorial spread.
Sounds pretty easy, right? Wrong.
The hardest part of this challenge for me was starting. When I originally viewed the brief, I went into my room and looked around at the assortment of strange things I had. I considered using many different objects, including:
A Cider Boys sign
This would have been an easy thing to write about, but it didn't really inspire me, per se. I had acquired the sign when I was eating out at a local burger restaurant, and the bartender let me have it. I later found out that the restaurant shut down rather unexpectedly, so that's probably why he gave it to me in the first place.
My special edition Bob Seger purple vinyl
What can I say, I like vinyl records. Since I had already done a record-based project, I opted to keep looking.
A vintage train case/makeup organizer
I actually started to work with this one, but I couldn't find much information on it. Since the organizer gave no indication of its origin or maker, it was hard to find any sources.
My strange keepsake box
This would have also been interesting to write about because I feel there's definitely a story to be told. It's a simple hinged box, with engravings on the top that outline a three-panel scene by a lake. Again though, with no proper markings of its origin, I was out of luck.
My "It's a Mystery" cassette by Bob Seger
This object showed true potential. At one point, this was what I had decided I was going to write about. I had even started doing research and attempted to write about it, but it just wasn't working for me. I'm not familiar with this particular Seger album, so I think that left something to be desired for me.
Having exhausted all of my options of tangible objects in my life, I perused the Ideas Wall to see what my classmates had done. Some people had opted for historical items that were personal to them, others had simply chosen a generic object and written about it. (I think perhaps my favorite one so far is about lightbulbs!) However, someone also wrote about the video game, God of War. This got me thinking about the video games in my own life, and my roommate had even suggested writing about my Switch, so I felt that this avenue was a good one to explore.
In the end, I decided to write about Stardew Valley. I've put a ridiculous amount of time into this game, so I knew it was something I'd enjoy writing about. In fact, I could've definitely written more than 300 words on it. In addition, I knew its story was special. The game developer had approached the idea of making the perfect farming RPG in 2012 and ran with it. I'm still in awe every time I play that a single person made everything in this game happen. It's been four years since it was released, and it's still as popular as ever.
Since I had opted to go with a video game, I looked for resources in that realm. These included the game's website, as well as a number of video game articles and interviews with the creator.
Qualitative vs Quantitative Research
I knew I would be looking for more qualitative research since I was looking to understand how the game creator came to put together Stardew Valley. There would be a mix of quantitative research as well, just to accurately portray the different elements that went into the game-making process, such as the number of hours he put in or the number of downloads the game received after its launch. Much of the information I would be looking for was based on emotions and feelings. I was curious about how Eric Barone felt while he was creating the game, what sort of stress he endured over the four years it took to make, and any sort of conflict he ran into.
Primary vs. Secondary Sources
Another thing I had to consider while doing my research was what kind of sources I was using. Primary resources are "provide a first-hand account of an event or time period and are considered to be authoritative. They represent original thinking, reports on discoveries or events, or they can share new information" (UNSW Sydney 2020). For the sake of my project, these would be sources put together by Eric Barone himself. As such, the Stardew Valley website served as a primary source during my research. The site is housed with information that has been populated and curated by Barone. In the FAQ section, there are tidbits of information that cover his time while making the game, which almost serves as a mini-log of his process.
As for secondary sources, these would include any video game articles and interviews I came across. As explained by UNSW Sydney, secondary sources "offer an analysis, interpretation or a restatement of primary sources and are considered to be persuasive" (UNSW Sydney 2020). The secondary sources I used were typically reviews of Stardew Valley or fan-made wiki pages.
As a whole, my research process fell within the narrative category. As described on one site,
"Narrative research is a term that subsumes a group of approaches that in turn rely on the written or spoken words or visual representation of individuals. These approaches typically focus on the lives of individuals as told through their own stories" (ATLAS.ti 2020).
My focus on Barone and Stardew Valley was geared at formulating an origin story for the game. As such, I was looking for stories from that time in Barone's life, when he was spending an endless number of hours on something he wasn't even sure would result in anything.
This site is dedicated to everything Stardew Valley. It covers the various platforms the game is offered on, where it can be purchased, and even includes an area for merchandise. I started my research in the FAQ section, as I was already aware of the gameplay and themes behind the game. It was my hope to find more specific information about Barone's process to game development here and springboard off of that into other sources. That didn't happen, but there was still useful information to include in the final article.
This article served as the backbone to the majority of the material I included in my final piece. It was done in an interview style, so while it wasn't a primary source, it definitely fit into my narrative research. The article also covered aspects of quantitative research because it included various statistics on Barone's game-making process. As he puts it,
"On average, I probably worked on it 10 hours a day every day of the week during development...Now that the game is out, I'm probably spending more like 15 hours a day on it" (Baker 2016).
Beyond that, the Stardew Valley developer covered what inspired him to take on such an arduous endeavor. He discussed how he felt that being real with people was the best tactic and that he had no strategy when it came to creating a game people would like. He only sought to create a game he knew HE would want to play.
With my narrative outlined, thanks to the plethora of information from the Gamasutra article, I looked to supplement my research with some of the important game numbers. This included the number of downloads it had and the amount of revenue it made. As such, most of my quantitative data came from here. Since my final piece wasn't focused on being number-rich, I just used this article to help illustrate the impact Stardew Valley has had on the video game industry. One such way to show its impact? Numbers. People respond better to facts and numbers, rather than emotional appeals, when it comes to making an argument.
As it often does, the writing came easy. This was something I enjoyed discussing with my friends, so it only made sense that the words just seemed to form on the page. As for the design, I knew I would want to keep it simple and relaxed. I used the main title screen as the imagery for this piece and utilized its large size to cover the breadth of one page on my spread. This allows the viewer to either a.) recognize the familiar intro screen or b.) understand that the article is about some sort of 8-bit style game. In the spirit of keeping the chill mood going throughout my design, I opted for a single blue accent color (which I pulled from the graphic) and used a legible, but relaxed, san-serif font called Comfortaa for the body and Grandstander for the title.
In the end, my final piece ended up looking like this:
The critical review feedback that I received for this piece was NOT favorable. I decided to go back and look at how other video game articles are formatted, as I'm not familiar with the genre. I opted for a different document size, as well as a different body text. One of the notes I consistently received was that the old format looked to be geared toward a younger audience, which wasn't necessarily my goal. I had hoped to embody the youthfulness and relaxed state of the game through my design, but it was not portrayed effectively.
This is what I put together in the small amount of time I had. I already think it works more effectively than my last design, and I will be cognizant of my audience in the future. We'll just call this a learning experience!
When it comes to the final product, I'm pretty happy with how things turned out. The article itself is written in an engaging fashion that would keep a reader interested. The design is simple, yet still pulls the eye in. I like how the two fonts work together, and it looks nice as a spread.
I would change how long I spent deciding what to write about. I couldn't seem to find any one thing that I thought was "worthy" of being written about, and frankly, I think I just overthought the whole thing. Even as I'm writing this, I thought to myself, "I should've written about my sewing machine." The fact of the matter is, I could have written about anything! Some objects would've lent themselves to more creative designs (like threads for my sewing machine), but things worked out and I ended up enjoying the subject matter I chose to focus on.
I took the time to flesh out a new design. Since our PDF is due tomorrow, I didn't give it a whole lot of time, but I wanted to prove that I had put some thought and reflection into things. If I had more time, I would explore adding more color and possibly incorporating the imagery more into the overall feel of the editorial spread.
ATLAS.TI. 2020. “Narrative Research - Analysis of Qualitative Data - Design & Method.” ATLAS.ti [online]. Available at: https://atlasti.com/narrative-research/#:~:text=Narrative%20research%20is%20a%20term [accessed 1 Dec 2020].
Baker, Chris (2016): “The 4 years of self-imposed crunch that went into Stardew Valley”. Gamasutra. Retrieved from https://gamasutra.com/view/news/267563/The_4_years_of_selfimposed_crunch_that_went_into_Stardew_Valley.php.
Barone, Eric (2016): “FAQ”. Stardew Valley. Retrieved 12.11.2020 from https://www.stardewvalley.net/.
COLLINS, Hilary. 2010. Creative Research : The Theory and Practice of Research for the Creative Industries ; Requireed Reading Range, Module Reader. London ; Oxford ; New York ; New Delhi ; Sydney Bloomsbury.
DOUGHERTY, Brian and CELERY DESIGN COLLABORATIVE. 2008. Green Graphic Design. New York, Ny: Allworth Press, Cop.
FALMOUTH FLEXIBLE. 2020. “Research Methods with Martin Hosken.” flex.falmouth.ac.uk [online]. Available at: https://flex.falmouth.ac.uk?wvideo=ztevmftv3h [accessed 9 Nov 2020].
Fogel, Stefanie (2018): “'Stardew Valley' Makes $1 Million in Three Weeks on Mobile”. Variety. Retrieved from https://variety.com/2018/gaming/news/stardew-valley-mobile-revenue-1203029518/.
LAUREL, Brenda. 2003. Design Research : Methods and Perspectives. Cambridge, Mass: Mit Press.
NOBLE, Ian and Russell BESTLEY. 2016. Visual Research : An Introduction to Research Methodologies in Graphic Design. New York: Fairchild Books.
UNSW SYDNEY. 2020. “Primary and Secondary Sources.” UNSW - Sydney | Library [online]. Available at: https://www.library.unsw.edu.au/study/information-resources/primary-and-secondary-sources#:~:text=Primary%20sources%20provide%20a%20first [accessed 1 Dec 2020].