Exploratory research covers a wide variety of approaches used in the first stages of a research program where territory is unfamiliar. Exploratory research is often used to plan, scope and define later research stages, by understanding the key issues, dynamics, beliefs and behaviours relating to a particular topic as well as the context of the topic and business challenge. It is usually immersive for the researcher or designer, helping them build understanding and empathy with the user and the context of the design challenge.
Approaches that are used focus on understanding the consumer’s world, daily routines and habits, challenges and opportunities and the social and environmental context, in order to identify key issues and tensions to be addressed in later research and through the development of any concepts or design prototypes. While this means that there is a great focus on approaches that capture context and behaviours (such as observation and depth interviews), exploratory research can encompass a wide variety of traditional and more innovative methods including, but not limited to:
- surveys and questionnaires (usage & attitudes)
- touchstone evaluation
- diary studies
- cultural probes
- contextual enquiry
- artefact analysis
- personal inventories
- hang outs, etc
Exploratory research is almost always flexible in nature, with a large spontaneous element and the ability to diverge from planned protocols and adapt approaches as the research evolves and learnings are integrated into a holistic understanding of behaviours and context. Evolution of exploratory research is targeted at inspiring solutions with the end goal of building a deep and comprehensive understanding of people and their lives within the context of the business challenge. Ideal outputs are a set of criteria for development of design solutions and research approaches to further develop and optimise business strategies to take advantage of opportunities and provide meaningful solutions for users.
Universal Methods of Design by Martin & Hanington