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Reframing Research: Inspire Creativity and Clients

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Research can get a bad rap — it’s where great ideas go to die. But that needn’t be the case. On the contrary, we think research — maybe slightly reimagined for fast-paced agency production teams — can cement the case for great ideas with even the most risk-averse clients.

You know the type: the client who, after sending you a brief that inspired you and really got your juices flowing, pulled back once things started getting real. While appreciating the fresh, out-of-the-box thinking, the client wasn’t quite ready to let go of what was familiar. In such circumstances, it can feel like you’re serving two clients: the adventurous client who aspires to do great things and swing for the fences, and the conservative client who just wants a fresh coat of paint on last year’s work that doesn’t risk a thing.

This duality exists in all clients to varying degrees, but it’s not their fault — pursuing creative, status quo-challenging ideas takes courage. But chances are the client’s company doesn’t measure results in courage — it measures them in sales, sign-ups, and other metrics that point toward customer behaviors. The status quo has all the data it needs to prove old designs (even mediocre ones) get some customers to act. And what do new designs have? Until they’re tested, they have hope, promises, and aspirational stories that might move us emotionally but frighten clients when it comes to gambling their reputations.

This is where research can ride to the rescue, putting design ideas (new and old) on equal footing so clients feel comfortable making the bold choices they want.

Making Research Work for You

Historically, research has been something most of us have worked around — waiting for studies to be set up, run, for results to be gathered, etc. — but we think the trend toward rapid research is underappreciated. Research should serve the way we work instead, not hold up design progress. Here’s how we think great research should look:

  • It positions itself as the team’s missing dance partner, telling us what works for people and why. The team puts those insights into action, confident each step is going to land.
  • It puts creatives and idea makers in the driver’s seat, helping them determine what design questions we need to answer and what options are worth exploring.
  • It synchronizes with design, moving at the right pace, following the right process; design and research should never hold each other back.


Everything should flow. Just as designs can iterate quickly over hours and days, research should match the pace and frequency of design so every design decision — even internal ones — will hold up with clients.

Making Research Work for Clients

But effective research doesn’t just serve agencies — it ultimately is about serving clients, who want to make smart decisions but can’t do that alone. It’s your job to prepare them to make decisions on design direction. So when you present designs, discuss the pros and cons, the emotion and the logic, what you know, and the options to learn more. Research is the best way to learn about design before anything is built.

Given both sides of each story, clients are better equipped to make sound decisions and stick with them. And if there are any nagging questions, clients know you have the tools to find answers so they feel confident they’re making the right choice.

The RITE Stuff

Rapid research is a great resource for agency teams and clients alike. Perhaps the only thing more exciting than seeing great design ideas validated in a test is seeing mediocre ideas become brilliant with just a few design tweaks.

Fortunately, you don’t have to reinvent the wheel to deploy rapid research on your team: In the UX world, the RITE (Rapid Iterative Testing and Evaluation) method nicely fits the needs of fast-paced and experiment-driven agency designers. The beauty of this method of usability testing is as soon as you get a clear signal an improvement should be made, you step in mid-study and change the design. No wasting time and effort reconfirming what everybody knows is a problem. You keep design evolving, even when you’re learning. Said simply, you save time and money.

But the downside to the RITE method is it requires a dedicated in-house researcher who can sit with designers and talk through how to make adjustments on the fly while preserving the study’s integrity and results. Fortunately, as with many services, user research (even the RITE method variety) can be outsourced to capable partners (ahem), which can allow you to spin up quickly (as little as a couple of days) and turn the capability on and off as needed. This makes research an on demand resource teams and creatives can lean on to help clients build faith and confidence in how the big, creative ideas stack up against the small ones.

RITE Method: