Research to Reality - How Elixel Transforms Insights into Design Solutions

Research to Reality - How Elixel Transforms Insights into Design Solutions

Bridging the gap between UX and UX.

Paul Bird
0 min read
June 7, 2024

Research and design are the two pillars of successful digital product creation. Research lays the foundation, unearthing the needs, behaviours, and pain points of users. Design then takes these insights and transforms them into intuitive, engaging, and effective solutions. However, the path from research to design can be fraught with challenges. Different priorities, perspectives, and potential misunderstandings can hinder the translation of raw data into meaningful user experiences. A study by McKinsey found that “over 40% of companies surveyed still aren’t talking to their end users during development,” highlighting a common disconnect between research and design.

This is where a robust approach to design, like the one outlined in McKinsey’s Design Index (MDI), becomes invaluable. The MDI evaluates companies based on their design practices, and research has shown a clear correlation between high scores on the MDI and superior business performance. In fact, top-quartile MDI scorers — those companies excelling in design — experienced a remarkable 32 percentage points higher revenue growth and 56 percentage points higher total returns to shareholders (TRS) over a five-year period compared to their industry counterparts. As McKinsey puts it, “the market disproportionately rewarded companies that truly stood out from the crowd.”

At Elixel, we recognise the importance of bridging the gap between research and design through a culture of collaboration, open communication, and mutual respect. We believe that the most successful products are born not just from rigorous research or brilliant design, but from the seamless integration of both.

In this article, we’ll explore the dynamic interplay between research and design at Elixel. We’ll hear from Cherokee, our seasoned researcher and analyst, and Helen, our innovative senior designer, as they share how their partnership drives innovation, overcomes challenges, and ultimately delivers exceptional user experiences.

Questions for Cherokee (Researcher/Analyst) and Helen (UX/UI Designer)

How does research contribute to creating more effective and user-friendly digital products?

Cherokee: A good idea is just the starting point. Research takes that idea and transforms it into a product that truly resonates with users. By delving into their needs, behaviours, and pain points, we uncover insights that guide every design decision. It’s about ensuring that we’re not just building what someone thinks users want, but what they actually need and will use.

We also look beyond just user research. We delve into the competitive landscape, analyse existing solutions, and identify opportunities for differentiation. We consider how the product will fit into the wider ecosystem of the business, impacting existing processes and technologies.

By understanding the full context, we create intuitive, user-friendly products that align with both user needs and business goals, ultimately leading to a successful and valuable product.

Helen: Research provides the clarity and direction we need as designers to create products that do what they need to do.

Without research, we’re essentially designing in the dark, making assumptions based on our own experiences and biases. But with research, we gain an understanding of who our users are, what their needs are, and how they interact with technology. This knowledge informs every design decision, from the layout of a digital product to the flow of a user journey.

“One online gaming company discovered that a small increase in the usability of its home page was followed by a dramatic 25% increase in sales.” — McKinsey MDI Study

Cherokee, what are the most valuable insights you’ve uncovered through research, and how have they shaped the design direction of specific projects?

Cherokee: Honestly, I am always amazed at what research uncovers. Even with experience, I’m surprised almost every time. I can often predict some answers or the general direction, but there’s always something unexpected that emerges.

One of the most consistent insights is the disconnect between what people think should be the case and how things actually work on the ground. I’ve seen whole internal systems designed based solely on input from upper management, reflecting an idealised process that doesn’t align with the realities faced by end-users. Taking the time to talk to those users, understand their challenges, and uncover their unarticulated needs can dramatically reshape a design and its impact on efficiency.

A prime example is our work with LiveWest. They initially asked us to help enhance their existing digital Compass tool, which was designed to support young people. We expected to focus on minor improvements, but our research revealed a much larger story. We uncovered organisational challenges around data management, process duplication, and youth engagement — issues that extended far beyond the Compass tool itself.

This deeper understanding completely transformed the project’s trajectory. We shifted from making incremental improvements to the tool to designing a comprehensive system that addressed those fundamental challenges. The new Compass not only became a more user-friendly digital tool but also streamlined internal processes, improved compliance, and significantly enhanced LiveWest’s ability to engage and support young people.

This project highlights the power of research to go beyond surface-level issues and uncover hidden opportunities for innovation. By investing in research, we can discover the true needs of users and organisations, leading to solutions that have a far greater impact than initially anticipated.

Helen, we’ve heard from Cherokee about the invaluable insights research uncovers. How does this research data directly influence your design choices? Can you walk us through a specific instance where research led to a significant design change or improvement?

Helen: Research directly shapes my design decisions by providing a deep understanding of needs. This understanding helps me craft individual components and the overall user journey in a way that feels intuitive and natural to the end user.

For instance, when working on the LiveWest project, research revealed key priorities that guided our design process: efficiency, easy access to data, and enhanced youth engagement. These insights weren’t just abstract concepts; they translated into concrete design choices.

Take the “add action” task, for example. Research revealed a need for this functionality within the assessment journey, but it also raised further questions. We needed to decide whether to make it optional, how to encourage engagement without being forceful, and where to place it within the user flow. By working closely with research, we used data-backed insights to answer these questions and craft an optimal solution.

This collaborative approach, where research and design constantly inform each other, extended throughout the project. We regularly reviewed wireframes with both teams to ensure that our design choices were not only visually appealing but also feasible, user-friendly, and aligned with LiveWest’s overall objectives.

The impact of research didn’t stop at launch. We continue to use research data to measure a product’s success, identify areas for improvement, and inform future enhancements. This ongoing cycle of research and refinement ensures that solutions continue to evolve and effectively meet the needs of both the organisation and the end users.

Describe the workflow between research and design at Elixel. How do you ensure a seamless exchange of information and feedback throughout the project?

Cherokee: At Elixel, we break down silos between research and design. From the very beginning of a project, Helen and I work closely together to ensure a smooth flow of information and insights. I regularly share my research findings with her, not just the final report, but the raw data and my thought process as I analyse it. This allows Helen to not only understand the “what” of the research but also the “why” behind it.

We also encourage early design exploration. Even before the research phase is complete, Helen might create quick mockups or sketches to help visualise potential solutions based on emerging insights. These aren’t final designs, but they spark valuable conversations and help us explore different directions collaboratively.

Throughout the design process, research remains an ongoing resource. If Helen has questions or needs clarification on a particular user need or behaviour, I can jump in and provide research-backed answers. This iterative feedback loop ensures that the design is always grounded in real user data and insights.

“Nurturing top design talent…requires more than promising a big bonus…it requires the freedom to work on projects that stir their passion…”— McKinsey MDI Study

Helen: Having Cherokee as a collaborator from the get-go is invaluable. It’s not just about getting a research report at the end; it’s about being part of the discovery process. Seeing how Cherokee gathers data, analyses it, and uncovers insights gives me a much deeper understanding of the user’s needs and motivations.

This shared understanding allows us to start the design process earlier and with more confidence. The quick mockups we create during the research phase are like a sandbox for us to play and experiment together. We can test out ideas, gather feedback, and refine our approach before committing to a final design direction.

Cherokee’s ongoing support throughout the design process is also crucial. If I’m unsure about a design decision or need more information about a specific user segment, I can always turn to Cherokee for quick, research-backed guidance. This collaboration ensures that our designs are not only visually appealing but also grounded in user-centric data and insights.

What are the biggest challenges you’ve faced in bridging the gap between research and design, and how have you addressed them?

Cherokee: One of the biggest challenges is balancing the depth and detail of research findings with the need for actionable insights that designers can readily translate into solutions. Sometimes, I can get a bit caught up in the intricacies of the data, leading to lengthy reports that might overwhelm the design team. Additionally, I can be a bit of a perfectionist, striving for a comprehensive list of user needs but sometimes struggling to envision how those diverse needs can cohesively come together.

Thankfully, Helen’s design expertise is instrumental in overcoming these challenges. She has an incredible ability to distil complex information into visual concepts and prototypes, helping me see the practical implications of my research. Our collaborative approach allows us to brainstorm together, explore different design directions, and ultimately arrive at solutions that meet both user needs and business goals.

Helen: The biggest challenge for me is often finding a clear direction amidst the wealth of research data. While the insights are invaluable, it can be difficult to pinpoint the most crucial elements to prioritise in the design. There are so many potential paths to explore, and sometimes analysis paralysis can set in.

Cherokee’s guidance is essential. By discussing the research findings together, we can identify the most impactful insights and prioritise the needs that should drive the design. This collaborative process not only helps me narrow down the focus but also sparks creative ideas and solutions that I might not have considered on my own.

The iterative feedback loop we have in place is also crucial. By regularly sharing design concepts with Cherokee and getting her feedback, I can ensure that the design stays aligned with the research findings and continues to meet the needs of our users.

What advice would you give to other organisations looking to enhance their research-driven design capabilities?

Cherokee: The most important piece of advice I can give is to truly recognise the value of research. It’s an investment, not just an expense. I am often pointing out that I wouldn’t be doing my job properly if I wasn’t saving both time and money throughout the entire process… Once you embrace the value of research, focus on fostering a culture of collaboration between research and design. Break down silos, encourage open communication, and create opportunities for both teams to work together throughout the entire product development process. This collaborative approach is key to ensuring that research insights are effectively translated into impactful design solutions. Additionally, invest in the right tools and resources to support your research efforts. This includes user research platforms, analytics tools, and collaboration software. These tools can streamline your research process, making it easier to collect, analyse, and share data with your design team.

Helen: In my experience, few organisations truly embrace research-driven design the way we do at Elixel. The collaborative process we’ve developed, where researchers and designers work hand-in-hand from the very beginning, is truly unique and incredibly effective. If you’re looking to enhance your research-driven design capabilities, I highly recommend adopting a similar approach. Start by building strong relationships between your teams, breaking down those silos. Encourage them to communicate regularly, share insights, and collaborate on solutions.

“Design flourishes best in environments that encourage learning, testing, and iterating with users…” — McKinsey MDI Study

In this conversation, we’ve explored how the collaborative relationship between research and design is fundamental to Elixel’s approach. Research provides the insights, design provides the solutions, and collaboration ensures that the final product is both user-centric and impactful.

The LiveWest case study is a testament to this approach, highlighting how research can uncover hidden needs, challenge assumptions, and transform initial project scopes into comprehensive solutions that deliver far-reaching benefits.

By breaking down silos, fostering open communication, and embracing a continuous learning mindset, we empower teams to work hand-in-hand, creating digital products that not only meet but exceed user expectations.

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