At my place we have a shed that gets rearranged and sorted on a rolling basis. Sometimes it just needs a clean; other times we’re looking for something we know we have. The contents get added to and plundered based on family circumstances – usually who’s moving into a new place, who’s back at home or who’s travelling (cough cough). We forget what’s in there and are decently surprised when we find something valuable or important. It’s not unusual to have “It’s in the shed” echoed back to me when I ask where a ‘thing’ is.
The last few weeks have given us time to dive in again and it got me thinking about all the work and research I’ve been involved with in the past 10 years.
Why clean the shed now? (Just to really ride this metaphor!)
Doing a clean out or an audit of what you already have rings true right now. There’s a presence of frugality in the current conversations I’m having – a real sentiment of: Let’s not waste money at the moment. Now is the time to look in the shed, take stock of what you have and not spend on something new.
If I relate this to my work, what if we open the shed and take a good look at the design research bought and stored; the customer journey maps, the personas, the contextual enquiry, the workshops over the past two to three years, and see if there’s anything reusable or that you’ve forgotten about? Maybe a new lens could shed a different perspective on it.
Some thoughts for cleaning:
1. Unpack what you have and be prepared to take it all out of the shed
If you’re doing a big clean-out, you’ll need to unpack most of it. In business, our first conversation is to ask if any research has been done on ‘this’ before, or if any other team has anything valuable. Often the answer is ‘no’.
Then we start digging. We talk to the rest of the business and we come up with much more than anyone knew existed. Sometimes the work has been done and it just needs to be interpreted/translated, or maybe made actionable. This isn’t a big job, but it means you’re not starting from zero – an important and responsible approach right now.
2. Be clear about what you’re trying to find
If you go into the shed with the purpose of finding something, then be clear about what you’re looking for before you open the door. It can get really distracting in there! What’s the outcome, who wants it and what will happen once you find it? Most importantly, how will you action it?
So much research sits on shelves and isn’t actioned – it’s amazing what you find.
3. Can you fix or reuse an old piece?
Once you’ve looked at what’s been done before, start thinking about recycling. Is there something valuable that was missed because you didn’t know how to execute or action it? Or have circumstances changed to the point where what was hard to use may now be useful because of change?
Look at what you’re trying to solve and see where the gaps are between that and what exists. Only then will you have clarity on what you should do next.
4. What can your neighbours share with you?
It’s amazing to have neighbours that share. What’s in their shed, and can you use it?
Having worked inside a scientific environment I’m amazed at how, as a sector, they share their academic research. There’s a real intent in knowing the value of what they have and then sharing. They catalogue, share and present to each other. I’ve often thought that if the government sector did a garage sale of design research then a number of pressing issues could begin to be solved. They might find that many of the issues have the answers hiding in someone else’s research, or at least it would provide a few steps up from ground zero.
5. Give to charity
There are so many amazing underfunded organisations out there that would love to get their hands on good solid design research, work that would help them start faster in solving their problems.
As it stands it’s not easy to share or to know what’s been done – because those beautiful little pieces of work that really could make a difference or supercharge a session, remain on a shelf in someone’s shed. It’s not easy to get your hands on that; there are so many padlocks.
It’s irresponsible to start new design research without plundering the shed. It’s irresponsible for a new person that starts in an organisation to disregard the work that’s been done and fund new pieces of work, without doing a full audit of what exists.
As the agencies and teams that do this work, we have a responsibility to make sure we ask the two most important questions: What’s been done before? And, Do you mind if we go and look in the shed?
This really is the bigger question: How can we support the generous sharing of already completed design research? How can we set up a repository of what’s been done, a Spotify of design research and a Netflix of tools? We need to be socially responsible with funding, budgets and most importantly the end-user that this research is for.
More so than ever, in a time of frugality we should be using what’s in the shed first.