这一次我带着强烈的私心，来到了设计调研专家石之慧在上海的家来做客兼采访。私心是因为我对设计调研的工作着迷 － 从调研中取得有用的洞察来帮助改变人们的生活。在这个“用户体验”当道的年代，你怎能不对设计调研产生好奇？
This time I came to visit the design research expert Zhihui Shi’s home in Shanghai with extra excitement. Extra excitement is because I am really fascinated by design research and I know how much fun it is to be a nerdy researcher to find out insights that can help making impact on people’s life.
之慧曾在英国和香港留学，回国后一直在上海工作，现在就职于一家跨国的老牌设计咨询公司齐思设计TEAMS Design。作为一名资深设计研究员，她已带领着团队为多个世界500强企业提供过设计研究咨询，包括 Microsoft, ThyssenKrupp, Bosch, Siemens, BMW, Intel, Samsung, BP, Dell 等。在以用户为中心的创新设计中都需要从最初的调研着手，通过发掘真正问题的所在来找出商业机会与设计方向。
After finished her study in UK and Hongkong, Zhihui came back to work in Shanghai, and she is currently working at a global design consultancy TEAMS Design. As a senior design researcher, she has led a team and collaborated with a lot of Fortune 500 companies for research and strategy consulting, including Microsoft, ThyssenKrupp, Bosch, Siemens, BMW, Intel, Samsung, BP, Dell and so on. User centred innovation design is all starting with research, in order to discover the real problem and ask the right question to trigger new business opportunities and design direction.
In China, many companies are just waking up to realise the importance of design until the recent years, and they’re starting to reform the business structure by putting design innovation into the core position. “User Experience” is what people say they know, but only a few really have the knowhow to make it work well. As for some designers themselves, it is easy to take a subjective view when doing design and lacking of empathy. Innovation is such a hot topic in town, how to dig out the potential user needs is an art. Zhihui hopes that she can apply her knowledges and experiences in helping the local startups to create high quality products and services in the future.
Design research is usually taken by qualitative research methods. Zhihui often does home visit for user research, but this time around, it is my turn to do the home visit on her to find out more about her life.
Q1: What is the best moment of the day for you?
Z: I like the moment of the day when you put all your attention in something and you totally forget about the time passing, either with work or a hobby. Because the moments like this make me feel fulfilled.
Q2: What made you want to become a researcher? What path did you go through?
Z: Actually I prefer to introduce myself as working in the field of product innovation / design, research is an indispensable part during the process. Without the design context, the sphere of research is way too wide, and lack of a sense of aspiration. My background is in industrial design, during my 6 years university education, I studied with other design students together. Frankly speaking, I didn’t think I was very talented in design, but at the same time I found myself have better strength in logical thinking and analysis than other peers. After I luckily got offered a design research internship opportunity when doing my master degree, I just fell in love with what I do and kept rolling.
I think it is not difficult to enter a profession, but it’s hard to stay in passion for it. But for me, design research has such magic. I think research is a way of thinking, and it might be an attitude towards life: that is, keep searching for an answer to the question in your mind. Over a period of time, the way you look at things will change, you will start to scan through multiple layers and different depths rather than only stay on the surface.
Q3: What was your childhood dream, was it design related? What about now?
Z: My childhood dream was becoming an dancer, same as now. I was super shy when I was little, and I thought dancing was so magical that could speak for you from the bottom of your heart. But later I felt that you don’t have to make what you like to be your career or get approval from others. I rather keep dancing in a personal level, and only share it with myself or my close friends/families. Back then I didn’t know anything about design industry, but I thought dance and design were both art related.
Q4: A lot of companies will do comprehensive market research for their business, product or service development, but they may not familiar with design research. What are your thoughts on design research vs market research? Are they overlapping to each other or completely different?
Z: Market research can exist in any business related activities, but involves various research methods and content, depending on different business scopes. Research target is not only about user, but also include the corporate background and industry environment, and quantitative data collection is a must. The scale of design research is normally smaller, not likely to involve quantitative research, and the research target is mainly on the typical users.
Talking about user, market research is emphasising on understanding user’s preferences and attitudes, focusing on product’s market position; but design research is to identify user’s potential needs and behaviours, focusing on the product user experience. Most of the time, market research is the foundation of design research, by setting a big picture and direction for product development.
User experience research is the most critical part of design research, in addition, it also involves investigation of related areas, such as science and technology, market competition, other stakeholders, design trends and so on.
Q5: Your research work involves a diverse range of industries, how do you adapt to each one, and what process do you follow?
Z: If encountering a new research area, I will certainly spend some time to get my head around it with my team, and avoid to turn the client into Wikipedia during the meeting. When facing the client, you have to always maintain in an expert role, you have to set the requirement to yourself like this.
Based on the problem and the project’s actual situation, I will define the project scope and research methodology, at the same time communicate with the client and design team sufficiently.
Before conducting research, need to have a full preparation, including research target recruitment and research material composing. Execution (data collecting) time varies from a few days up to a few weeks. Following with iterative steps of data sorting, discussion, summary, synthesis, and then finally draw conclusions. The research work is overlapping with design phase, it is also an iterative process.
Q6: What is the most important stage during a research project?
Z: Research execution. Because every interview only have one chance and not redo-able. You must grasp the key moments for asking each question; also be resourceful on site according to circumstances, because many of the key insights are discovered by accident and need to be further excavated.
Q7: Do you have any tips to share on how to gain insights from research?
Z: Discover the behaviour pattern that the users themselves don’t even realise they have, for example, some small gesture or habitual mis-operation. The insights that are not obtained from the interview often hide the deepest possible opportunities.
Q8: Could you please share with us your most interesting research experience?
Z: That was a few years back my first time to India for a research regarding power tools. We were going to a focus group that day, but got stuck in traffic at 2pm because of lacking the knowledge on local transportation condition. My parter and I tried any possible ways but still ended up half-hour late. We felt terribly sorry at the beginning but no respondents arrived either when we showed up. Later we found out being one-hour late is the very common in India. I think it is my little benefit as a researcher – finding out and experience the different local custom around the world.
Q9: What is the most difficult situation you have encountered during your research work?
Z: The most difficult situation I had was during the project a while ago for a product targeting at dumb/deaf people. We were facing not only the language barrier, but even more about the communication differences. Dumb/deaf people usually have a sensitive heart with strong self-esteem, and tent to be more guarded against strangers. So we came up with the solution by inviting their sign language teacher for translation, and meanwhile we learnt how to do the simple sign language such as “hello” and “thank you”. Furthermore, we invited their friends and families to join our interview in order to make them feel more close and relaxed, and for us we could find out more about them indirectly from the people in their circle. As a result, this project was done very smoothly and successfully.
( Zhihui showed me her next most wanted travel destination Madagascar, and the little monkey she wants to meet from the animation film. )
Q10: If you have the choice, what area do you want to do research in?
Z: I feel that I am attracted to different topics in different phases of my life. Research itself is a tool using for answering questions. At the moment, the question I want to tackle the most is that how to use design innovation to help startups to produce high quality products or services. The design innovation work I have done before are mostly for the main stream big corporations, but a lot of people do not know much about the design innovation yet, either understand how much work behind it and its business value. I would like to get more entrepreneurs to understand what we are doing, and let more people getting benefit out of it.
Q11: Who or what has been the biggest influence on your way of thinking?
Z: My design research mentor Doctor Xiangyang Xin (current Dean of the design faculty of Jiangnan University, the priors in interaction design in China). When I was studying in Hong Kong Polytechnic University, he gave us the very first product development core theory course and provided us the initial practice opportunity in design research. His interpersonal skills and way of handling affairs made me deeply feel that doing design need to be broad-minded with a generous heart.
(She and her boyfriend baked a home-made apple pie while I was there, I felt so overwhelmed!)
Z: 最近对虚拟现实（Virtual Realty）比较关注，也是因为我参与了SHVR (上海VR) 活动的组织和协调工作。很多人甚至都没有听说过这个可以畅想我们未来生活的技术，所以我觉得做这件事情很有意义。
Q12: What are you currently fascinated by? Could be a book, movie, design, activity or anything…
Z: Lately I am interested in Virtual Realty, also because I am involved in organising and coordinating the SHVR event. Many people haven’t even heard of this amazing technology which helps us generating imagination into the future, so I think it is very meaningful to do so.
Q13: What are you passionate about besides your work?
Z: Besides my work, I like all kinds of things that can fulfil and entertain myself. I have a broad range of hobbies, interested in a lot of things. The recent couple years I’ve been studying French, part of the reason is to test test my willpower – don’t give up easily once started.
A lot of people are into travelling, I am no exception. I set a standard for myself – go travelling abroad once 3 months, and I have been following this plan since then. For me travelling is the catalyst of life, and it also helps accelerating the transformation in life.
Z: 我觉得比较重要的三点：同理心，要设身处地站在对方的立场思考；客观导向，在看待事物的时候尽量不要带有个人主观色彩 ；足够的耐心。研究无论大小都是一个较为严谨的过程，特别是在做实地调研的时候，工作量很大而且具有重复性，但正是这样的重复验证带来了更加准确的结果。所以，不要轻易下结论，一定要反复思考斟酌，最后是需要由研究员来“一语见真谛”。
Q14: What qualities do a design researcher need to have? What advice would you give to young design researchers?
Z: Three points which I think are more important: empathy, put yourself in other people’s shoes; objective-oriented, try not to look at things with personal subjective; enough patience. Research has a rigorous process no matter the scale size of it, especially there is a big work load and can be very repetitive when doing field research, but from the repetitive validation you can get a more accurate result. Therefore, do not jump to conclusions until you have thought it through repeatedly and thoroughly. At the end, researcher needs to be able to nail down the insight in a nut shell.
之慧的男友现在上海创业做VR(虚拟现实)方面的开发工作，这一次我也是享受到了额外的福利，一次性在他们家把一系列的VR demo玩了个够。之慧也一直在探索通过科技的辅助来做设计调研，例如线上调研系统可以得到快速数据，或着用Google Glass来让用户自己记录每天的行为等。或许VR在未来也可以用于设计调研的辅助工具。但除了借用新科技的辅助外，用心去观察与解读才是最重要的，无论是在设计调研中或是在我们的生活里。
Zhihui’s boyfriend is an entrepreneur in Shanghai doing VR development, this time I was like a child entering a candy store that I tried out all kinds of virtual reality demos on their oculus rifts. Zhihui is always exploring new technology for design research as well, such as using on-line survey systems for fast responses, using Google Glass for daily behaviours recording by users themselves and so on. Perhaps in the near future, VR may also be used as an additional tool in design research. However, besides all the extra help from technology, the most important thing still is – observing and interpreting through your heart, no matter dealing with design research & innovation, or our daily life.