Getting paid for research

Getting paid for research

Most designers approach sizeable projects with a discovery phase that includes some type of research. Getting clients to pay designers for research is a hit and miss exercise. Clients think they have all the data they need; they don’t need a designer to collect more data.

The problem is many clients are using data as a lagging indicator. They are examining what has happened and projecting forward to what (they hope) will happen. They typically rely on data such as sales, repeat sales or returns. This is the problem.

Good design research starts with qualitative information. How does the customer feel? What is their observed reaction? Which parts of the experience do they value most? Anecdotal research done well helps build the customers’ story. This is the bottom up approach where you use leading indicators to understand the customer. You are looking at why they reacted (leading) the way they did, not just the reaction (lagging). You are trying to understand their beliefs, experiences, attitudes, behaviour and interactions.

So how do you do it?

We use a personal journey map. This is like a customer journey map except it traces a stage in a person’s life. It still uses the Doing, Thinking, Feeling stages but they relate to a life journey. This is not used to develop personas! We suggest you use a number of them with a client’s customers. You need to gain trust but once you do you can start to build a story around the customers and their beliefs, experiences, attitudes, behaviour and interactions.

You can gather this information through an interview where you shape the questions and discussion to give the insights.

Once you have several personal journey maps look for similarities in the stories to give you design direction. These are stories told to the client to help explain your design decisions as part of the customer’s life journey.


Good design resonates at an emotive level. Swamping it with a lot of data collected on past performance will never be as good as qualitative research.

Contact Greg Branson if you would like to learn more about ways to increase your client budgets.


Want more?

Here’s more information on design maturity:

  1. Prioritise performance – an article about leading and lagging indicators – here
  2. Efficiency and effectiveness with leading and lagging indicators
  3. Taking clients on the design journey.

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