Earlier this week the Pivot team sat in on a talk by Portigal Consulting principal Steve Portigal at OCAD. The lecture titled ‘Culture, User Research & Design’, was right up our alley and was something that we could instantly relate to. The talk, though catered to Developers more than to Designers, was refreshing because we were able to see and hear other creators come out and be excited about the prospect of learning about design research.


Steve spoke about ethnography and other design research methods as the bridge between consumer research and user research. So true! At Pivot, we believe that though user segments and consumer research are a good way to find out about the demographics of an audience, the results of this kind of research can often leave you lacking the true insights into a situation.



What works really well for us is using the marketing research as a starting point to understanding the deeper nuggets of knowledge. By getting into the real environments with the real people you allow yourself to learn about and participate in the norms of a group of people. These norms then help define a baseline for your learnings — and that’s where true insights can come from.

I liked Steve’s idea that design research is about getting down and dirty and being in the raw space to experience all the rough edges of what really happens. Because when was the last time you experienced something raw and real from a stack or research documents?


As a designer and design researcher, I find myself constantly observing the people and things around me to the point where it almost happens subconsciously. And to Steve’s point, it’s important to distinguish between observation as a designer and observation as a consumer. He aptly stated, that the difference is in knowing vs. loving. As designers, we are in the position of being a creator of goods and services, and our observation revolves around knowing about the love (or lack of love) that people have for their objects and things. On the opposite side of the scale, designers are also consumers and when we observe the things that we love we will have a very different perspective.

In being able to hone this distinct ability to take in our surroundings, we as designers and design researchers can Create and Observe in a push and pull overlap that surpasses limits and bounds.

Many thanks to Steve Portigal for so eloquently speaking on the subject — kudos to being such an inspiring thought leader on design research.

Iffat Jokhio

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