Agencies are propelled by bold creative ideas that push client work into new territories. These creative executions juggle essential aspects of an experience – brand affinity, storytelling, emotional engagement, and… they have to be logical, understandable, and usable. In essence, the experience needs to appeal to both the right and left sides of a person’s brain. This isn’t news for designers, but it can seem like a new concept when talking about traditional research. The problem is that traditional research methods, whether they are related to brand, market, or even user experience, excel at evaluating one side of the equation but rarely do justice to the other.
Traditional user research, known for its analytical and usability-focused lens, sometimes finds itself at odds with the free-spirited nature of creative explorations and people’s emotions. This misalignment often results in user research being marginalized or avoided altogether at agencies because it can’t be creative nor rigorous enough to satisfy everyone.
Enter Creative Experience Research (CER), a holistic approach designed to flex and flow with creative agency needs. This series unfolds the nuances of CER, with this first part spotlighting how to frame research to resonate with creative work.
Creative Experience Goals
How often have you heard research planning sessions begin by listing tasks or functional requirements? The experience needs to support X, Y, and sometimes Z. Or maybe your design team just wants to know if people think the experience is cool like [insert famous brand here] or what people think of the animation. Thinking about the goals of your experience requires breaking free from the blinders put on by traditional research and thinking about the goals holistically.
Here are the five categories of creative experience goals:
Ensuring the experience is accessible and resonates with a diverse audience, considering aspects like context and device use.
How can we ensure the experience is accessible and inviting to a diverse audience?
Delving into the attitudes or beliefs users may form or have reinforced through the experience, spotlighting the intersection of brand messaging and user perception.
What beliefs or attitudes do we aim to reinforce or challenge through this experience?
Identifying the key information or messages users should understand from the experience, encompassing facets like clarity, findability, and recognition.
What key pieces of information or messages do we want users to know or understand?
Exploring the emotional impact and connections the experience aims to create, aligning with desirability and appeal to users.
What emotions do we aim to evoke in users through this experience?
Defining the actions or behaviors the experience aims to encourage or facilitate, tying back to usability and user actions.
What actions or behaviors do we want to encourage through this experience?
Setting the right goals is a pivotal step in aligning your team’s creative vision with the right research plan that blends brand, emotion, and usability.
Defining the Experience
With the Creative Experience Goals outlined, agency teams and sometimes clients come together to understand the starting point, whether it’s an early concept or a fully baked design execution. If it’s a concept, the focus is on understanding and iterating it based on the defined goals and getting it ready for exploration. On the other hand, if the creative team already has a design execution, the focus shifts towards evaluating and fine-tuning it against the different goals of Engaging, Believing, Knowing, Feeling, and Doing. This stage is crucial for honing the vision and understanding how it supports brand directives, user comprehension, and creative ambitions so we know how to frame the research.
Co-Design for Creative Insights
Utilizing co-design to prepare design prototypes is a paradigm shift for many. It reframes research from merely evaluating finished deliverables to a more expansive exploration of design concepts. By broadening research from a single-lens evaluation to a multi-faceted exploration, co-design lets the creative team direct how research explores their design concepts and not be limited to the design executions that can be created in a short timeframe.
Through interactive co-design sessions, teams get a shared language and framework for creative experience design. By involving agency teams and/or clients, a bridge is built between creative experience goals and tangible design directions. Sessions delve into how well the design fulfills its goals, identifying key questions and uncovering blind spots that warrant exploration with users. It’s an intense exercise in design refinement and preparation that may also underscore the need for design variations and how prototypes are constructed.
The Future of Design Research
Agencies need to let go of the baggage and friction from traditional research methods. A usability test or card sort isn’t going to tell a creative director about their design’s emotional appeal or a copywriter how well headlines resonate with your customers. Nor will a marketing focus group tell your experience designer what designs will actually perform better when launched. And neither method will tell you about how well your experience lands on a holistic level.
As agencies transition from traditional user research methods, Creative Experience Research emerges as an alternative to traditional research methods, or worse, skipping research altogether. As designs are required to balance creativity and user-centricity, so must our tools for measuring them. Stay tuned for Part 2 of this series, where we’ll delve into the methods and techniques of conducting Creative Experience Research to unearth rich insights and foster innovative design solutions.