Research project process

My research started by identifying a human need – improving the safety of cyclists as vulnerable road users. Triggered by research that indicated some drivers see cyclists as less than human, I wanted to find ways to humanise cyclists and help all road users understand each other better. This translated into a research question:

How can visual communication help drivers and cyclists understand each other’s point of view, in order to enhance road safety?

To enable an exploratory, human-centred approach to my research question, I selected design-based research (DBR) as an overarching method. DBR is an iterative process involving cycles of exploring, designing, testing and refining a response to a human need. For my project, this process involved conducting an extensive literature review, generating ideas for possible responses to the question, running focus groups, prototyping a design response, and testing the solution with users to get their feedback (via an online survey).

A visual overview of the design-based research process for my project

The spiral-like journey and Nautilus shell shown in the diagram reflects the organic nature of this research approach. Each stage of the process informs the next, and the project develops as you go along.

At the start, the initial need was clarified by formulating questions, determining scope, and planning the project. In the first stage of the project, relevant topics were investigated through a literature review. Specific research methods were selected at that point, so that ethics approval could be sought for the human-centred stages of research.

Stage 2 involved generating ideas for possible responses to the problem, creating rough sketches and simple prototypes. At stage 3, these concepts were tested in focus groups (online and face-to-face). Feedback from these allowed concepts to be refined. The focus group research also explored the core problem further, to tease out key issues and generate more ideas related to cycle safety and how to connect road users.

In stage 4, the research up to that point was analysed and key themes were identified. These themes fed into the design of a prototype solution (an interactive story) in stage 5. I’ll write about that in a separate post. This prototype was then tested with users (stage 6) and their feedback, together with usage data from the prototype, was reviewed in stage 7 to see whether it was effective in answering the research question. The findings from this review were communicated in a dissertation, and a one page project summary was sent to research participants.

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