The 3 roles of research

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If we embrace a human-centered philosophy as we build digital products, then engaging with our customers – “research” – can create value in three ways.


Foundational/generative/ethnographic research can tell us what our customers and users value, how they get stuff done and what they currently struggle with. When we know that we can ideate around how we can help them become better at what they do, with the help of our product.

Quant approaches for foundational research (which can tell us what people do) include web traffic analytics and search engine keyword analysis. Qualitative methods (which can tell us why people do things) include discovery interviews and shadowing persons as they go about their business.


Concept validation helps us understand if our ideas for new products actually help our customers become better at what they do.

Qual methods include co-creating storyboards and observing the customer use low-fidelity prototypes as they do real stuff. Quantitative approaches include “fake” landing pages (although these only help understand desire) and Wizard of Oz tests.


Usability tests help us make sure that the product is usable, I.E. understandable and attractive.

Qualitative methods include observing customers as they perform prescribed tasks. On the quant side A/B tests and heat maps help us understand a product’s usability.

Creating a foundation, validating ideas and ensuring usability is where research with customers can provide value when we create digital products.

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