Uncovering Human Needs through Visual Research Methods: Two Commercial Case Studies


  • Joanna Hare
  • Katie Beverley
  • Taaslima Begum
  • Claire Andrews
  • Anna Whicher
  • Andrew Walters
  • Alistair Ruff


Human centred design, service design, design research methods, design thinking, arts-informed research, wicked problems, commercial design


This paper presents two respective case studies which demonstrate how visual research methods can elicit a deep understanding of the needs of potential end users and drive product and service development at a strategic business level. The engagement of users in the development of products, services and systems has been explored by a number of design disciplines in the last few decades including but not limited to product design, human‑computer interaction, systems design and service design. Each has recognised the importance of understanding the humans who will potentially be using their design outcome. Notable research methods include ethnographic inspired research, in‑context and lab‑based observations, interviews and the user trial of prototypes. However, these approaches also have their critics and limitations ranging from the need for incremental adjustment rather than radical design, being time‑consuming and costly processes, and the large volume of ‘messy data’ being collected contributing to the complexities of ‘wicked problems’. In response to some of these limitations, a number of research methods have emerged which are more arts‑based in nature i.e. the act of creating allows the researcher to extract ‘deeper’ human needs (tacit and latent needs) in a drastically shorter timescale. To fully utilise such approaches it is essential that a study be designed which amalgamates diverse research methods. The two case studies presented in this paper employ a variety of traditional and generative design research methods in live commercial projects. The specific project outcomes are retained under Intellectual Property and, as such, this paper critically focuses on the value of the process and methods utilised, their relationship to the wider concept of arts‑based research, and discusses issues related to their application in commercial work.



1 Jul 2018