Research in graphic design gives you the answers to critical questions like what characteristics should a logo, web page, poster, etc. have?
When we say design research, we don’t mean scientific experiments and analysis. We simply mean gaining a more nuanced understanding of:
- The people, business, or brand you are designing for
- The basic questions that come up during the design process.
At the end of the research, you may not have hard facts in your hand, such as which colour to use or not. But you will have feasible ideas and concepts upon which you can build to make effective and stunning designs.
This brings us to the question of what is design research. We unpack what it means in this blog. We also talk about the benefits of research in graphic designing and the golden rules you should follow.
What is Research in Graphic Design?
Research is critical in any area of design, from logos to posters. It is about collecting data through interviews with clients, user feedback, domain research and more. It guides the creation of the design by helping you understand what makes people tick.
It lends you a frame of reference using which you can shape an idea into something people will want to see. At the very heart of it, design research is learning about people’s behaviour.
Let’s say you are designing a website. With research, you find out who will visit the site and what sort of design elements will appeal to them the most.
Why must a graphic designer do research?
There are several reasons why every good graphic design course emphasizes on research:
- It helps you fully understand the problem.
- It helps you create a design with confidence.
- It helps you discover:
- What do you need to design?
- Why do you need to make it?
- How will it be used?
Essentially, research arms a graphic designer with knowledge, making it easier to create something that the client will love.
Assume you are asked to make a UI. Without research, the chances of the UI design being rejected are high. Why? Because you don’t have enough information on what will appeal to the client.
On the other hand, if you research well, you’ll design a UI that will work in the real world and be liked by people. This increases the chances of the client accepting your design.
But can’t a graphic designer rely on the information the client provided? No. You need to ask questions, dig deeper to understand the industry, the company, the product or service.
A graphic designer can never have too much information. This is particularly important when designing for an industry, product or service you are not aware of.
What are the benefits of research in graphic design?
Design research is a mix of aesthetics, user feedback, technology, and the client’s goals. But the most effective graphic designs are user-centric.
A user-centric approach to graphic design means you keep the people who will see the design as the most important factor. How do you do that? By gathering feedback from users.
You can conduct interviews with the target audience to determine what resonates with them and what parts of the design they do not like. You can even talk to the brand, client or business to find out what they want to communicate with the design.
In simpler words, the biggest benefit of design research is unearthing crucial information on what users want and what the brand hopes to accomplish.
A very simple example of research in design is creating mood boards. You can create a mood board for colour, iconography, typography and more. You can then show them to others to test what rings a bell with the client and aligns with their goals. Using the feedback, you can then refine your design.
It helps you uncover actionable insights.
Graphic design is complex. There are too many aspects that go into designing something even as simple as a logo.
That’s the second benefit of research in graphic designing. It helps you identify the client’s tastes and preferences before you make a heavy investment into the design.
For instance, you are asked to make a web page for a cosmetic company. How do you pin down what type of layout they will like? Or if they like bold colours and vibrant images instead of subtle colour and simple photos?
Adding to the confusion is the fact that the same thing may have different meanings for people. What appears “cool” to you may seem “not sophisticated enough” to the cosmetic company.
Design research helps you remove mix-ups like these. You get clear cut insights that allow you to take action.
What are the 5 golden rules of design research?
As the best graphic design institute in Kolkata and our experience with innumerable graphic designers says there are 5 thumb rules in design research.
Art not science
Design research is not a science experiment that will give you numbers. It is more an art. What you should be looking for is what emotions does the design evoke, does it resonate with people, or does it intrigue their sensibilities?
Perception over preference
Don’t focus your research on what type of design people prefer. Instead of asking if this design will sway a person to buy a product, ask what it communicates to them or how they perceive it.
Brand comes first
Graphic designers often confuse research with asking people to explain what they like in their design. That should not be the focal point. It should be the brand. First, ask people what they love about the product or service. Then ask them if the design communicates the same or not.
Factor in familiarity
People do not like change. So, they tend to like what is familiar to them. If you design something disruptive, ground-breaking or new, keep in mind that most people may not like it at first glance.
Don’t ask for advice
You are the graphic designer, not the consumer. So, never ask them for advice on how to improve the logo, webpage, poster or more. Simply pay attention to how they react to the design and not their so-called expertise.
What should graphic designer research?
Now that you are clear on what design research is, how it benefits you and what rules you must follow, we give you the five key areas where you should begin your research.
Since graphic design research can be a broad area, we use logo designing as an example. But you can use the process for design research for any other field.
Step 1: why do they need a logo?
This should always be the first step – finding out why the brand or company needs the design. In the case of a logo, it can be because they are a new brand or they may be redesigning.
For a new company, your research should move on to step two. But if it is a redesign, dig deeper.
- Is the company redesigning because their original logo was created in a hurry (and cheaply) when they started?
- Are they creating a new product, and that is why they need a new logo?
- Are they merging with another company (like in the case of Vodafone and Idea) and require a different logo?
You have to understand the reasons for the change in the logo. Only then will you be able to decide on whether you need to start from scratch or to evolve the current version.
Step 2: what is the brand about?
It sounds like common sense, but plenty of graphic designers skip this step. Please don’t. You need to know what the brand or company does. Also, discover:
- The history of the firm
- What products do they have?
- What problem does the product solve?
- What are the values of the brand?
- What message does the company want to communicate?
The answers to all this should impact the design of the logo.
Step 3: Who is the audience?
How do you design an attractive logo? By knowing the target audience. No matter how striking your logo is, it will not be effective if the intended audience is kids, and you designed it for adults.
One way to research the target audience is to ask the client. If they don’t know who they want to target, ask them to describe their ideal customer. This would include:
- What is their gender?
- What is their age?
- Where are they located?
- What is their lifestyle?
- How much do they earn?
Knowing these demographics will help you understand their pain points and what they want from a brand. Use it to design the logo.
Step 4: What is the company’s long-term vision?
A logo lasts for decades and decades. It should remain relevant even 45 (or more) years later. That’s why it is pivotal to know where the company sees itself in the long term.
Say you’re designing the logo for a sports shoe company. But 10 years down the line, they hope to expand to apparel and sports equipment. You’ll need to consider this when creating the logo.
How do you research the long-term goals of the brand? You ask the client. Question them about their future plans. Based on the answer, design the logo.
Step 5: Who is their competitor?
The last thing a graphic designer should research is the competition. It will assist you in:
- Identifying the intended audience
- Discovering what not to use in the logo.
But more importantly, it will prevent you from making a grave mistake – unknowingly creating a logo that looks like a competitor’s. While it is tempting to copy well-known logos, it is never effective. You want the design to stand out and be memorable.
How do you research competitors of the brand? One, you ask the client to give you a list. Two, do your own search on Google. Look at companies that sell the same service or product and companies that sell something similar.
Where to start learning research in graphic design?
The value of research is undeniable in every field. It gives you indispensable information. That knowledge guides you to better practice. But more than that, research can nurture innovation along with creative aptitude.
The belief that graphic design is only art and needs no research is, therefore, inaccurate. It doesn’t stifle creativity; neither does it scare you from designing something revolutionary. Rather it allows you to explore deeper and further.
It removes the guesswork from your design. It takes care of any miscommunication between the graphic designer and the rest of the team. In short, research is a powerful tool in graphic design.
Use it, and you become a better graphic designer because you now have knowledge of audiences and competitors. Besides, it can help you discover the latest trends in graphic design.
That leaves you with just one question – where do you learn design research? You join a graphic design course that pays particular attention to research and concept building. Any of the best graphic design institutes near you would be a great place to start!