Design research emphasizes the user or customer as the source of inspiration for innovation. Only through that research can we discover who our customers are, what they do and what they want.

However, so many products and services lose their intended audience simply because the creators did not take the measures to act on that fundamental research concept. Instead, they become internally focused based on static methods that may capture the intellectual and rational thinking of consumers, but do little to capture those persons’ thoughts at the experiential level.

More often than not, when we approach a design project, we quickly discover that missing link. Companies may think they know WHAT their audience is, HOW their clients are, WHO their customers and users are, but they are often wide of the mark because they simply haven’t acquired the right feedback.

Yes, standard research and analytical tools do provide valuable insight into the design process. But does it offer a multi-dimensional view of human behaviour?

So what is it that makes that product, user experience real? It really boils down to something quite simple. That is, creating hands-on, appropriate fitted, experiences that engage users and generate dialogue to meet actual users and customer goals. And deliver to the brand or product promise.

We’re not talking focus groups, which tend to revolve around measuring attitude, beliefs and desires. Rather, it’s creating environments where we can actually listen to a audience based on spontaneous, uncensored feedback. This can take the form of interviews, storyboards, scenario building, field research, contextual inquiry, concept and prototype trials in real-world settings and measure behaviour with the product or service.

As simple as it seems, successful design must leverage the power of participatory user, client and customer research within a real-world context, not in an artificial setting with one way mirrors and a video camera watching over your shoulder. It’s always a surprise when we discover this naturalistic observational input hasn’t been a part of the product development strategy.

The reality is, when it comes to launching your new product or service, it’s never about what you think will work — but about the security knowing how your customers will behave with the product, that it will be a positive experience and that they will tell many others — isn’t that the strongest marketing tool of all?

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