bella martin
Co-Author, Bella Martin

Planning an innovative or effective digital experience today usually demands research and analysis. But, how do you figure out which methods to use? A new book, “Universal Methods of Design: 100 Ways to Research Complex Problems, Develop Innovative Ideas, and Design Effective Solutions,” has the answer. One of the book’s authors, Bella Martin (pictured right), recently took time away from her work at Delta to answer some of my questions about this handy resource.

Tell us, why did you decide to put together a book showcasing design research methods?

11698359My co-author Bruce Hanington (a professor at Carnegie Mellon’s School of Design) and I worked together on my thesis project, titled “Visualizing Research Methods” back in 2003-2004. With Bruce’s guidance, I investigated whether design teams seeing descriptions of new research methods made those teams more confident in using them.

After that project, Bruce and I would always hint at resurrecting it because we felt we were onto an idea that was really simple but had a lot of impact.  So, not only did the idea stay with us, but we found ourselves repeatedly responding to our colleagues who would send us descriptions of a design problem and ask for advice on which research method to use. Over the years we amassed a pretty sizable set of seminal research papers and books that we would point people to again and again, and we thought it was time to share that information on a larger scale. The information was out there, and the book just gave us a chance to take all of it and present it in a new, more visual, way

For those who aren’t familiar with the Rockport series, what is the approach and why is it handy?

Rockport’s “Essentials” series are beautiful books that were written and designed primarily to be visual…in the words of the editors there, they want their books to “show as much as they tell.” The other books in the series use the same “100 principles” format that we do, such as “Universal Principles of Design” (one of my favorite books).

In each of these books, each principle takes up only one or two pages, with the visual and the verbal elements working hand-in-hand to illuminate the ideas presented. The books are great because each creates a feeling of “looking over the shoulder” at the processes and techniques being used by design teams around the world.

The audience for Rockport books are usually practitioners and students…the people who are doing the day-by-day effort, don’t have time to read arcane and long-winded books, and who need references that provide both fresh ideas and techniques that help them to hone their skills.

I was delighted that you included methods for researching content. Why did you decide to include them?

More and more interactive teams and project stakeholders are waking up to the fact that design work cannot be teased apart from content work. Although it is likely people will react to the visual components of our products and services first, the reason they stay and that they return is going to be based on the content that you have made available, and whether it helps them, informs them, entertains them…and does so repeatedly.

Digital teams and project stakeholders can get in front of this challenge by making the content the focus of reviews and studies with the intended users or audiences. Methods of evaluating content—such as the example that your team at Content Science provided to visualize what the content is doing—can help interactive teams better plan for content.

Which method have you used recently? Could you tell us a little bit about how you used it?

I have a project that is just kicking off, and the team needs to review wish list items and prioritize them in a way that supports the business goals. I’m going to facilitate a few sessions using the Kano Analysis and the Weighted Matrix to help make decisions about the order in which we tackle each design request. I love using these methods as they take the guess work and individual preferences out of the mix…a much smarter way to work.

To learn more about or buy the book, visit

Originally published on the now-archived Content Science blog in April 2012.

The Authors

Colleen Jones is the author of The Content Advantage and founder of Content Science, a content intelligence and strategy firm that has advised or trained hundreds of the world’s leading organizations since 2010. She also is the former head of content at MailChimp, the marketing platform recognized by Inc. as 2017 Company of the Year. A passionate entrepreneur, Colleen has led Content Science to develop the  content intelligence software ContentWRX, publish the online magazine Content Science Review, and offer online certifications through Content Science Academy.

Colleen has earned recognition as an instructor on LinkedIn Learning, one of the Top 50 Most Influential Women in Content Marketing by a TopRank study, a Content Change Agent by Society of Technical Communication’s Intercom Magazine, and one of the Top 50 Most Influential Content Strategists by multiple organizations.

Follow Colleen on Twitter at @leenjones or on LinkedIn.

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