At Intentional Futures, we know that research is a valuable component of any project, regardless of size or budget. It allows us to uncover assumptions, make efficient decisions, and spark creativity. We also know thatif we’re not carefulit can become bulky, intimidating, and hard to process.

The key is doing just enough research. Based on the resources available to you, find ways to address your highest priority questions in the quickest and most cost-effective way possible.

To give you a sense of what we mean, here’s how we’ve incorporated just enough research into our work at iF.

Uncovering assumptions

Completion by Design (CBD) was a 5-year initiative by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to increase graduation rates at community colleges. As the initiative came to a close, iF was hired to improve its existing website to make it more useful to both CBD participants and those who haven’t heard of CBD but might benefit from its strategies.

Early on in the project, we presented paper sketches to a few people in the office to see if they could accomplish basic user tasks. It turns out they couldn’t because the sketches used a lot of vocabulary specific to CBD, making navigation difficult for someone unfamiliar with the initiative. Based on this informal testing, we were able to iterate on our designs to make them easier to understand for a broader audience.

What we learned: Getting feedback from people outside your working team allows you to uncover assumptions you might not even be aware of.

Making efficient decisions

Sometimes research helps us cut our losses before we invest too much effort in a product that has low demand. This was the case with Snippet, a mobile app that would allow people to create 17-second compilation videos of content from their photos and social media feeds with the click of a button.

To test the virality of our concept, we recruited six participants who fit our target demographic—active social media users who received high engagement on their posts. We created mock videos for each participant and had them post the videos to their Facebook profiles. During follow-up interviews, we learned that though the participants liked their videos, they received a lower response to their posts than expected. They also felt that the concept was not unique enough from existing products, such as Facebook’s Year in Review and Google Photos. As a result, we chose to discontinue our investigation to focus our attention on other work.

What we learned: Using research to vet ideas early can save your team time and budget that’s better suited for other projects.

Sparking creativity

For a recent engagement with a popular online payments platform, we explored ways to increase charitable giving via their mobile app. The concept we landed on was called the Giving Chain, where one user starts a chain by donating to a charity, then tags friends to encourage them to donate and keep the chain going.

To test the mechanics of our concept, we started a Giving Chain at iF by having one person physically walk around the office to tag others to donate. In doing so, we learned that an hour deadline to fulfill the task was a tall order, because for many, making a charitable donation required time and research. Asking people to drop what they were doing during a busy workday was unrealistic, so we brainstormed other ways to keep a Giving Chain going without creating an unnecessarily stressful situation for participants.

What we learned: Getting creative with how you gather knowledge helps you see your problem in a new light.

These are just a few examples of how we’ve used research to improve the work we do at iF. As you conduct research for your own work, remember that it’s not the method that matters, but the quality of the questions you’re asking. Asking hard questions early and often will challenge assumptions and ensure you’re creating something that will help make people’s lives better.

If you’d like to learn more about doing quick and cost-effective research, check out Just Enough Research by Erika Hall, available on A Book Apart.