Join Peni Acayo for an in-depth discussion in this video Primary vs. secondary research, part of Foundations of Design Research.
- View Offline
- In this chapter we'll discuss a variety of research methods. A research method is a structured process of collecting data. Research methods are defined by the quality, such as who did it, how was the information collected, when was it done, and why was it done. Understanding what research methods are and how they work will help you to better plan and discuss your research process. Most projects you'll encounter will include a variety of different methods that work together to achieve a greater understanding of the problem.
Let's start with two that are closely related, secondary research, research that was done by someone else, and primary research, research that's your own original work. Let's start by looking closer at secondary research. Think of it like this. A teacher asks his students to write a research paper on a historical event. So, the students head to the library, review books and articles and video documentaries and then use that information they've gathered to help write their papers. That's secondary research.
Secondary research sources can be books, magazine articles, academic journals, case studies, market reports, basically any credible source that has been published, information for anyone to access. Secondary research is a great method to begin your research process with. Let's say you've just been given a project to design a mobile app for college students. The app is supposed to promote healthy living habits. You've never worked with college students before, nor are you an expert on exercise or healthy eating.
So what can you do? You can start by reviewing written materials on exercising, healthy living, and college student life. The information you learn from this will help you to define your approach to the problem. Secondary research can also help you understand what you don't know. For instance, after reviewing some initial sources of information, you realize you know very little about what motivates college students to be healthy. Therefore, this could be a good opportunity for you to identify other more specific sources, such as books, articles, and journals that address this issue.
You might even realize something like this that's much easier to learn through primary research, simply by interviewing some college students. A word of caution. When doing this kind of research, you should be careful about getting too consumed in knowledge. What I mean is that it's very easy to become overwhelmed and even lost in information. Believe me, you can spend days chasing down data that you might not necessarily need or might not even exist. So, know what you're looking for, and if you can't find it, move on.
There will be other opportunities to learn it. Now let's consider primary research. Primary research is research conducted by you or anyone on your team that observes and collects information directly from the context of the design problem. Primary research uses a number of research tools to collect that information. Typically, it follows your initial secondary research, after you have a better understanding of what you're looking for. Let's go back to our original problem. Design a healthy living app for college students.
Remember, after your secondary research you're still not sure what motivates college students to be healthy. So, you conduct a series of interviews and observations of college students, to learn more about their lifestyle, how they behave, and what makes them want to be healthy. The value of this research is that it enables you to collect information you couldn't learn through secondary research. It is context-specific. It collects data from your target audience in a specific environment, and it's comprehensive, so you can learn a lot.
Collecting primary research is a tricky process. It takes careful planning and a keen understanding of the different research tools used to gather information. For instance, it's very easy to observe a group of people through your own judgmental mindset, seeing only what you want to see. It's also easy to only ask certain interview questions that will give you the answers you want to hear. So pay particular attention to the lessons in chapter four, where we discuss how to practice different research tools used in primary research. Finally, remember that both primary and secondary research are often used together in a project, to complement one another.
If the information you're looking for exists in secondary sources, great. You should use it. But often times it may need to be complemented with a more targeted investigation using primary research.
- Using research to add value and credibility to design work
- Understanding the different types of research
- Choosing research tools
- Creating a research plan
- Presenting research
- Using research to begin the design process