A 15-week independent study.


Design research is hard. Especially if you have limited money, time, or experience. Emerging researchers know they should research, and maybe know how, but they need to understand why.


A widely accessible channel that can walk people through a process emphasizing the "why" of research. I chose to create this with a chatbot.



Weeks 1-3

I did my primary research with the most accessible audience of under-resourced researchers I had — my fellow graduate students. Through synthesizing my interviews, observations, and experiences, some groups emerged:

the skippers

Me: What do you think of design research?

Them: It’s definitely important.

Me: What kind of research did you do for your last project?

Them: Oh, uh… We ran out of time.

Problem: Putting it off

Lacking: [Perceived] Time

the surveyors

“Take my survey!”

– every student to ever come through Brandcenter


*Note: I have only very, very rarely seen decisions made based on said survey's results

Problem: One-test-fits-all

Lacking: Resources

the subs

"So I've almost got it. But I want to do some more research, just to make sure! I'm not ready to design yet."

– myself, on too many previous occasions

Problem: Diving too deep

Lacking: Experience


Weeks 1-4

From what I found, good design research is built on a foundation of three things: experience, time, and money.

What researchers lack in one, they can make up for with another. However, that leaves my target audience of emerging researchers in trouble. They don't have experience. And not much more time, or money. So what do they need? They need to learn a way to research that saves time and money. Hence, the keys to good research...

Keys to good research:

It's implementable, efficient, and well-planned.


Weeks 4-

My first step was to create a rough map of the design research process to test the concept.

My first draft research framework. I started with all the parts of a problem one could research (at left) and worked through the process left to right.

I showed the above framework to my classmates. Predictably, there was confusion. However, their feedback was very useful in finding out which of my terms were uncommon, or which steps or questions made the least sense. Now that I had refined the framework, I started putting it into a flow, and creating resources to expand on certain concepts.

impact-effort matrix
research synthesis techniques

I took my refined framework and the above resources and tested them through workshops with design students. I walked them through my steps to develop a research plan, then checked in periodically throughout their research process to see how it went. The concepts were effective, but needed to be boiled down into a more concise conversation flow in order to create a widely accessible chatbot.  Enter the sticky notes.

My Post-It flow prototype. Pink are tasks users need to accomplish, Blue are questions Virgil can ask to get them there.

Once I had created the prototype of my conversation flow, I moved it into Chatfuel to build out the first version of the bot. I watched user interactions with it, and refined copy and flow based on feedback.


I created an MVP version of this chatbot in Facebook Messenger using ChatFuel, which you can talk to through the link below.

I also created a research survival guide that outlines the same framework and methods, in a format that allows more drawing and note-taking. I shared this guide while teaching the Brandcenter's first-year Strategy and Design class as a guest lecturer.

Screenshot from Virgil Chatbot; links to Messenger

Page from Research Survival guide; links to PDF of document


Doing this independent study allowed me to fully appreciate how much I enjoy the research process itself - not just as a means to an end, but something that ​can be improved and designed as much as the product it's meant to inform.

Also, the two hours I spent teaching were some of the most fun I had through the entire project, which validated my goal of teaching design one day.

Virginia Adamson | July 2020

Click to enlarge