All creative professionals have, at one point or another, taken on a project they did not know much about. In my last post I talked about getting more information out of clients, but sometimes the bulk of the findings are put onto you. While this seems like a chore for most people who are wired for the design side of the spectrum, it can actually be quite fun.
In today’s age we are filled with information. Access to some of the most challenging questions can be found in our pocket. While you should never solely rely on the internet for answers, you can get a good start there.
I have become an expert google’r. I like to watch other non-professionals type grammatically correct questions or statements into a search engine, only to be flooded by a list of unrelated hits. When searching google you must first become in tune with your primal ape. Do not search for, “What is the average cost of a banana in Juneau, AK?”, but rather break it down to mighty grunts, “Cost banana ‘Juneau, AK’ .” (important: when using a search engine, put quotes around words that are grouped)
Just as with ad copy writing, search engines require you to ‘expunge the crap.’ Adding words like “what is” or “how much” means you are searching for the question and not the answer. While search engines are getting better about understanding when you are asking a question, they are primarily searching for parts of the internet where your words are used. When searching for a question, you are far more likely to just find forum based sites where the question is asked. In fact, some sites boost their SEO to look for when someone writes ‘what’ or ‘how’. They then want you to sign up for their site, so you can ask their “experts.”
Google is full of information. I repeat, Google is full of information. When someone sends me an article about politics, I first consider the source. All it takes to become a writer for the Huffington Post or the Associated Press is to be able to click a submit button. The same is true with Google; all it takes to show up on their search is to have a website. Information and fact are not synonymous.
It is up to you to verify the information you obtain with further research. Finding lots of websites with the same information doesn’t make it fact. Often times, people will write something that was based on misinformation from another site. This creates multiple instances of erroneous information. Now there are two “sources” stating the same thing, but it is still not necessarily true. Dogmatic views of one writer do not translate to solid facts.
There is this ancient building down the road from my house. I visit it every so often, but it always seems quiet and unused. There is a hint of mildew to the air, which emphasizes its overwhelming staleness. I hesitantly walk in in search of answers. I go with hopes of checking facts, but at great risk. For if I am discovered by the keeper of this place, I may have to finally pay off my fines!
Maybe I’m over playing it a bit, but the library is a great source of information. I am lucky enough to live within an hour’s drive of three large public libraries, four college libraries, and the numerous Carnegie libraries established in my area by Scottish philanthropist Andrew Carnegie. Carnegie believed in giving to the “industrious and ambitious; not those who need everything done for them, but those who, being most anxious and able to help themselves, deserve and will be benefited by help from others.” I spent many summer days of my childhood in the local Carnegie library of my hometown. From this I learned improvement starts with self.
Research can be broken down to mean “to search again.” While not all projects take a great amount of research, some do. In some cases, you may discover an oversight your client may have made. When doing research on a project for a recent client, I discovered a series of tests required by a government agency for the product. When I brought these findings to my client to learn about their results, I found out they had no idea about the test. It put a slight delay in the process, but they were very appreciative as now they are able to apply for grants based on testing results.
Research can also lead you to learn how to effectively market a product. One thing I try to do when researching is keep documentation of the process. When I am researching something I know nothing about, I am at the same state of knowledge as a typical consumer. By tracking how I personally go about discovering more information, I can later translate the journey into an ad campaign.
In brief conclusion, the key to research is to search then search again. Never publish anything you haven’t fact-checked first. Through out any misleading information. Finally, make a habit of it.