The universal process designers often refer to, to design and develop a product is referred to as the design process. While some designers have quite different processes and methods, most of the components of the process remain the same. My understanding of the process from 3 years in design school goes like this.
I primarily studied Product Design and this is my understanding of the same and is not to be confused with the ideal design process often mentioned in mainstream design blog articles. The process often varies from person to person and some designers often take a different route with the components of the process - some people execute prototypes and find problems - which could be beneficial for projects like startups where prototype failures eventually lead to successful products but may not be preferred in an established environment since it could be time and resource consuming and often the problems are pre-defined by researchers who do the preliminary research.
Research is the inevitable part of any kind of design. All the answers can be found only if the designer asks the right questions - and the questions come from good solid research. Research for product development can often be demotivating - it almost always is, to me at least - mainly because I like working on physical products and during secondary research(Google & Wikipedia :) is when I find out the product I want to develop already exists.
Research Methods are quite wide and varied. Finding and making use of the right methods always lead to a better end product. The IDEO Method Cards are a good start for finding research methods - but they are not limited to research.
IDEO Method Cards are a tool to showcase methods we use to inspire great design and keep people at the center of our design process. Each of the 51 cards describes one method and includes a brief story about how and when to use it
Some of the common Research Methods and processes
Generative Research - often the initial research done during the problem identification phase where the designer doesn't know what exactly the problems are in the system. Generative Research gives the designer a deeper understanding of the problems of a particular product or the system he or she is working with.
Focus Group Session
A focus group is a collection of individuals that have been brought together to discuss a particular topic, issue or concern Focus groups often have this problem that the views of one individual might guide the group into a specific world view, its better to conduct small groups of 4-6 people with a researcher involved, since his experience can help in understanding the biases
Often a long-term process, diary study wants the participants writing a diary every day of their experience with the product
User Interviews & Expert Interviews
A good user interview is one of the most important methods in product design, it could give good clarity on the issues the users are facing.
Always ask open-ended questions - and listen rather than interrupt
Interview with pen and paper - record if you have to
Participant & Non-participant Observation
The concept of putting yourself in someone else's shoes. When you start thinking of the user and his view of the world, designing a product for him gets way easier.
Guerilla research is quite experimental and it could be a firsthand solution that you've already developed and you're trying to get feedback without directly asking the user.
The method is very cost-efficient and can benefit designers working on limited budgets but want quite a large amount of research data coming their way. Much like guerilla marketing, guerilla research also puts in radical methods to collect data. Please do ask yourself about the morality of the methods, since sometimes the method could be a breach to the privacy of someone.
For digital platforms collection of data directly from analytics software can also be classified as guerilla research, since the researcher doesn't quite come in direct contact with or get consent from the user.
Secondary Research is often done through the Internet and all the data collection possible indirectly.
Taking out insights from raw research data is the one problem I face the most. It is hard to understand the user - believe in that idea itself, you will never completely understand your user - it always is difficult and it takes time. Even if you have quite a lot of collected data from research, finding the right kind of information can be annoyingly difficult.
Make visual representations from both quantitative and qualitative data you have.
A pie chart, a bar graph or anything that gives you visual guidance helps
Make storyboards to help yourself understand scenarios.
Use sticky notes to tell a story
I had never understood the right method to use sticky notes - I'd say there isn't the one, you could try mine as well
Define a user and a scenario - e.g. A college hosteller using a portable room heater
Write down his cycle of using the product using stickies
Make multiple scenarios
Sticky notes are quite useful in the initial phases of understanding problems and the environment
Give headings and use colored stickies to separate and categorize different topics from an initial generative brainstorm
Some better things to read
A download link to IDEO Method Cards