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A Day in the Life of a Design Researcher

Feb 22 2017

by Keren Amit Bigio

When people ask me what I do for a living, I say,  “I try to understand why people do the things they do.” What inspires them to act? What motivates them to make certain decisions? What really makes them tick, or what makes them feel understood? Design research is like being a reporter or anthropologist or therapist—you’re given access to people’s lives that feels like a great privilege, and with that privilege comes great responsibility. 

For my latest project, I worked with a Japanese insurance company to explore the mindset of "digital natives."  Who are they, and what do they care about? After doing ethnographic research, we made a film to communicate what we learned. Juggling the roles of producer, creative director, and design researcher, I worked alongside Sean, a videographer, to bring the story to life. We looped back with one of our research participants in Tokyo and tagged along with her for a day, asking some targeted questions.

9:30 AM: Arriving at IDEO's Tokyo studio to start the day.

Ideo Tokyo R2

10:30 AM: From the studio we set out to meet our subject, Yoko*, and begin filming.

The purpose of the film was to bring the client closer to the people they want to serve, to help them understand the texture of their lives and what matters to them. We chose film as a medium because of its intimacy—allowing the viewer to feel as if they are hanging out in Yoko’s world for a day.

Keren Amit 3 R3

We had a translator with us to be sure we understood the nuance and intent of what Yoko told us. We tried to get to the heart of things. When people truly feel as though you're listening, they start to reveal themselves. That’s the magic that happens in design research. You are there to listen, not to respond.

Keren Amit 5 R3

1:00 PM: Taking a break to enjoy some authentic local cuisine.

You can learn a lot about a culture's rituals and values through food!

Keren Amit 7 Illustrations R2

2:30 PM: Capturing B-roll to round out the story.

Doing the research is one thing, but how do we capture and share it in a way that incites action? If we’ve created nothing more than an esoteric emotional piece, we’ve failed. We set out to inspire change in our client organizations. 

Keren Amit 6 Illustrations R2

4:00 PM: Precious cargo. 

As a nursing mother, I have to juggle a whole new set of responsibilities on business trips. The ice cooler is the new messenger bag.

Keren Amit 8 Illustrations R2

5:13 PM: Jet lag is no joke! Catching a pre-dinner cat nap.

Traveling to cool places around the world can sometimes seem more glamorous than it is. But still, I always find myself filled with so much inspiration. I run on adrenaline, and then at some point I crash.

Keren Amit 2 Illustrations R2

8:00 PM: A happy team moment at the end of a long day.

Want to get to know your team quickly? Travel together! The shared experience of exploring new places while working hard is a great way to bond.

Keren Amit 9 Illustrations R2

Learning about different cultures and customs is one of my favorite parts of design research. We get to understand so much about people by looking in on the day to day of their lives, their habits and routines. Cultures can vary, but regardless of where we are in the world, human needs are so similar. Uncovering these needs and helping to design for them can feel incredibly fulfilling.

*We've changed the name of our interview subject out of respect for her privacy.

  • Keren Amit Bigio

    Senior Design Researcher, IDEO San Francisco
    Keren is a Design Researcher and Project Lead, with a deep curiosity about people. She finds airports fascinating (good people watching) and drives most people in her life crazy asking too many questions.

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