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Secondary Research

Getting smart around your challenge is crucial to success in the field.


Suggested Time

3-8 Hours

Level of Difficulty


Materials Needed

Internet connection, pen, notebook, research materials


Design team

Process Phase

Human-centered design is all about talking with people about their challenges, ambitions, and constraints. But as you move through the Inspiration Phase there will be moments where you’ll need more context, history, or data than a man-on-the-street style Interview can afford. Social sector challenges can be really thorny, which is why Secondary Research, whether done online, by reading books, or by crunching numbers, can help you ask the right questions. At IDEO.org, we find time and again that a firm foundation of knowledge is the best place from which to tackle a design challenge.


  1. Once you know your design challenge, it’s time to start learning about its broader context. You can bone up quickly by exploring the most recent news in the field. Use the Internet, newspapers, magazines, or journals to know what’s new.
  2. Try to find recent innovations in your particular area. They could be technological, behavioral, or cultural. Understanding the edge of what’s possible will help you ask great questions.
  3. Take a look at other solutions in your area. Which ones worked? Which ones didn’t? Are there any that feel similar to what you might design? Any solutions that have inspired you to make one of your own?
  4. Because interviews can be highly qualitative, use your Secondary Research to get the facts and figures you need to understand the context of your challenge.