Service Design

The Need for Field Research in Design

Ideate Innovation

Often considered an expensive option, field research is a valuable component of the design process. Research has always been associated to design. The modern fast-paced work environment may not allow time for detailed research. However, research can actually save time and cost in the long run. Designers have the opportunity to choose either primary field research or employ secondary research methods. Each type of research has its own advantages. 

At Ideate Innovation, we value the opportunity to add context to the data we collect by interacting with the communities at the center of our work. We are able to observe the environment and situational factors firsthand as we conduct research. This sort of context-rich data can be obtained through field research. In this article, we will elaborate on the need for field research in design with an example of our own work in the field. Ideate conducted research in Pakistan’s rural areas prior to designing a third-party microfinance product for the people living there. Our experience there led us to include useful additions to the design of the microfinance product for our client.

Whether a business is looking to design a physical/digital product or wants to rehaul the way they deliver a service, field research unlocks contextual data. Researchers acquaint themselves with the environment of the users and can observe how users behave firsthand. Attention to detail provides designers with information they can use to devise alternative methods.. To bring innovations in design, researchers need to uncover needs, motivations, barriers, cultural and social contexts. Here are some standout reasons for employing field research to develop innovative designs. 

An Excellent First Step

As a starting point, researchers need to determine the scope of the project. For this, they need to gauge how diverse the targeted community is, and how extensively the proposed product or service will impact them. By learning about the intended consumers’ diversity and experiences first-hand, designers incorporate specific needs and wants in the final product or service. This is possible because designers have the information available at the start of the design process rather than later when drastic changes might not be possible.

Field research sets the stage for introducing a design intervention or innovation. The researchers being present in the field can shift power dynamics. Instead of the designers, the consumers or benefactors become the influencers in the design process.

When researchers interact with consumers they act as agents for the voices that usually go unheard due to inaccessibility. Field research delves deeper into communities and allows for more people to voice their opinions, often encouraging the under-represented class to share their input.

Ideate Innovation conducted field research for a FinTech product to be used by the rural community of Pakistan. This product focused on empowering women with credit facilities for their wholesale businesses. The catch here was that beneficiaries needed to be tech savvy and required tech access to use the FinTech product. Ideate’s researchers found that there was an opportunity to train women with access to technology who lacked familiarity. Similarly, some women were familiar with technology but did not own the tech. Both cases highlighted how this diverse community needed a specialized plan design for optimal adoption of the FinTech Product.

Obtain Detailed Data from the Field

The outright advantage of field research is the depth of information that designers obtain. Surveys and interviews are useful for getting more breadth in research. Whereas, field observations tell researchers what people actually do versus what they would claim. This reveals behavior or patterns that users themselves might not be aware of. 

Additionally, researchers gain context in the field about ongoing activities. They can pair a particular observation with the environment, the timing, or the social setting in which it happens. From here, designers find the nuances needed for innovation. It also helps explain how a design intervention could overcome an existing hurdle. Essentially, researchers can answer the ‘why’ along with the ‘what’.

In some cases, field research becomes necessary to get the level of detail that designers require. The result is significant cost-saving, as designers are able to focus on the right problem when they have more comprehensive information. It frees up valuable time and eliminates additional cost incurred during the trial-and-error phase. Designers achieve this by recording consumer experiences followed by a thorough interpretation.

During our research on the FinTech product, we undertook a persona building exercise to understand the different types of people who would use the product. Our interviews with the participants of the research helped us identify the key differences between the various users. As a result, we built clearly defined personas that defined all our future perspective users. 

Building Empathy for Human-Centered Design

Designers can employ field research to connect empathetically with the intended users. Every community has its complexities that need to be understood for a particular problem to be resolved. Field research provides an empathetic context. It motivates designers to deliver the solution quickly and effectively once they are aware of the intricacies.

Empathy matters while identifying the characteristics of product/serivce users. It is understandable that due to economic, cultural, and political factors people in various parts of the world live, think, and consume differently than us. In order for business owners to stop projecting their own thought processes onto the targeted community, field research is necessary to learn their unique characteristics. Once research explains how diverse users think and act, designers can provide solutions for both the average user and also prepare for extreme use cases.

The earlier mentioned field research for the FinTech product presented some lessons in empathy. Researchers noted the pain points of the interviewed females and presented a holistic report of how diverse the problems were. Women shared their concerns on independent financial decision-making, knowledge of smartphones, and stress-related health issues. From these interviews, the researchers identified opportunities that the FinTech product could resolve by incorporating the cultural constraints presented in the interviews. The field research was successful in presenting the personas as empathetic users whose mental challenges were treated equally important to the financial challenges.


Field research provides the opportunity to observe people act naturally and understand their behavioral patterns. It gives context to otherwise statistical problems, which is to say that designers can move past the facts and figures and approach the problems with the economic, cultural, and political nuances in mind.

Ideate Innovation believes that large-scale and novel projects demand field research as an investment that goes into successfully creating a functional service or experience design. Field research allows us to produce empathetic, culturally-aware solutions to the design problems of our clients, making our work stand out. Start your design journey with Ideate’s comprehensive ethnographic research services by contacting us here.