GROUND_WORK 03: Deep Research
By David Eardley in conversation with Asia Grant
GROUND_WORK is a four-part series exploring Redoux's journey of identity building.
Asia and I love to talk. We’ll often find ourselves on Facetime late at night, discussing the perils of internet culture or the latest sexy scent we stumbled upon. A lot of our conversations center around this idea of research—that much of our time as creatives ends up being spent gathering information, either consciously or subconsciously, on topics we’re interested in both personally and professionally. This research might be as informal as scrolling through Instagram or as academic as reading articles about the intellectual practices of successful business people (this is more Asia’s area of expertise than mine). For the third installment of the GROUND_WORK series, we wanted to dive a bit more into the idea of deep research; much of what you see at the consumer end of Redoux is the result of this invested information gathering, and it’s perhaps one of the most integral habits to our success. I thought that an interview would suit this topic best: a little behind the scenes glance at where our conversations go.
Research isn’t a very “sexy” term. Tell me your thoughts on this.
Who said that? I think research is a cathartic process where you get to explore and develop an appreciation for something new or familiar. I have to give credit to my college thesis advisor that showed me that research isn't work if you're excited about the subject. It starts with a desire for knowledge, and then is fueled by the passion you develop over time for that knowledge—it never really stops. There are times when I will be lying in bed, about to drift off to sleep, and something will pop into my head and I will rip myself away and reach for a book to find a very specific reference to an idea or concept that I have been researching.
It’s this visceral need—a hunger—that is only satiated through more of it. Maybe that’s toxic, but at its essence the act of research is essentially the same thing as dating, which is always sexy if you find the topic enjoyable—just the same as if it were a person.
I know that research is an important part of your work as a founder and creative lead. What does research look like to you? Do you have particular resources you turn to?
I think there are two varieties of research that serve different purposes: there's research for inspiration and research for application. Research for inspiration is more of a free-flowing process, where I don’t know what I will come across but I am open to finding something I like (similar to window shopping), while research for application is done to complete a specific idea task or project.
Most of the research I do is either visually through digital platforms like Instagram, Tiktok, Pinterest, and Are.na, or the old school way of combing through old books/ magazines that I’ve picked up over the years. Where I go depends on what I am trying to accomplish.
I have found that, if you keep an open mind and ears, any moment of practicing presence can technically fall into research and what you come across can be applied to a future project. At any point something may unexpectedly pop up in your life and resonate with you. For example, I was just catching up with a friend recently and he shared a collection of poems that his mother wrote and he compiled into a printed book to give her for her birthday. He titled the book “Taste My Words,” which I loved, so I saved it to my future campaign ideas as something I can draw upon in the future if it can be worked into a project.
Is it important for creatives to conduct research outside your medium or industry?
Of course! How could you expect to find any inspiration looking at other people that are doing the same thing that you are doing? They are probably looking right back at you asking themselves the same questions. I don’t believe that there is anything “new” or “unique;” rather, that the newness comes from someone’s interpretation of something that already exists. Your opinion or rendition of something has never existed, there may be something similar but it’s never come from you. In his presentation at Harvard, Virgil Abloh said “You have to have mentors, dead or alive. You have to connect with a body of work or someone who formulated a thought and an aesthetic and then build yours upon theirs.”
This begs the questions about fakes, rip offs and copycats, but I think this is different because there’s no thought behind these types of products or brands, just cold, calculating profit margins capitalizing off the movement and energy created by the underlying brand. People can have tastes and preferences that resonate or resemble other brands, that's a natural occurrence and how communities are built.
The way I approach research is by looking at the industries and products that move me and move people. Both emotionally and physically. There will be things that move other people that don’t move you and vice versa. From there, I explore the why behind the movement. There’s this litmus test I do during all of our design brainstorming meetings or reviews that I colloquially call the dopamine test.
How do you organize your research? Do you find you need to organize it differently for yourself than for sharing with others?
I think hindsight is always 20/20, but we recently systematized our research process and approach to creative projects. And for the sake of this question, I will clarify what I am describing as “research” and provide some context, because I’d argue that we are always researching something at every step of the process.
So our approach is the following:
- Find the problem we want to solve.
- Assign identity to problem.
- Propose several solutions to problem.
- Package and deliver.
Steps 1 and 2 are where our fundamental research happens—where we actively listen to our customers then gather the necessary information to tackle it: movie references, quotes, campaign elements, Pinterest boards, etc. The most important research happens in step one because it will define all of the subsequent steps.
There have been a number of times where we *only* define a problem we want to solve and don’t even move to the assign an identity phase. We just put them on the back burner until we are ready to kick them off. There are so many Redoux projects in the reservoir that we would love to kick off with more time/money/ resources (but all in due time!). Before sharing research with others, I first think about the audience because the way people receive information is so variable. I have found the best way to deliver an idea successfully is by following the structure of the “Pixar Pitch,” because it’s all about telling a compelling story.
How does your research live in the public sphere? How much of it do we get to see?
The most public version of our research is our Instagram feed and story. We also have a Pinterest and are.na page where we collect more visual references for projects. Something I’d like to work on more during this near year is to write more about the entire research process while it happens and document the thoughts behind some of our projects. That’s where the magic happens.
“Insert Complicated Title Here”, Virgil Abloh
The Design of Everyday Things, Don Norman
Influence, Robert Cialdini
Interaction of Color, Josef Albers