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January 2014

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Design thinking leads to smarter market insights

Written by , Posted in Business Insights, Industry Reflections, Optimizing Insight

In case you haven’t noticed, there’s an emerging—and growing—interest among leading management gurus in something called “design thinking.”  The origins of design thinking can be found in the industrial design world.  DT’s roots go back to the 1970’s and something called “participatory design” that brought actual users into the design process, asking them to test prototypes and provide feedback.  A decade later “participatory” had evolved into “user-centered” and user (or customer) “needs” became the focal point of the design process.  By the early 2000’s these principles were being applied to the design of services as well as products.  The role of the user in “human-centered design” was codified in an ISO guideline for a “human-centered design process for interactive systems.”  At the same time, the problem-solving principles and practices used by designers were finding their way into mainstream management thinking.

The champions of design thinking include David Kelley, co-founder of the design firm IDEO and his colleagues at IDEO, Roger L. Martin, Dean of the Rotman School of Business at the University of Toronto, and the Stanford University “d-school.”

As Tim Brown, the CEO of IDEO puts it, “design thinking is a set of principles that can be applied by diverse people to a wide range of problems.”  That includes most business problems that require new market insights.  At the heart of design thinking is developing a thorough understanding of the customer’s problem—in this case the customer is the company seeking market insight.  Getting to that level of deep understanding requires some skills that are not that common among market research agencies, but here are a few things that researchers—whether within the client or the agency—can do to develop that deep understanding of the complete business problem they’re trying to solve.

  1. Create a stakeholder map.  This is simply a visual representation of the relations among the different stakeholder groups.  Start by building a comprehensive list of stakeholders—some of whom may not be obvious or maybe not considered as having much say in the decision.  Once you have the list you’ll map out the connections between the groups and describe the ways they interact with each other.
  2. Capture the opinions and perceptions of the key stakeholders.  You can conduct individual interviews with representative stakeholders, or you might bring stakeholders together (at least electronically) for a collaborative “discovery” session using a tool like KJT Group’s Strategic Learning Session.
  3. Create an issue tree.  This is something the management consulting firms do to break a problem down into its “MECE”—mutually exclusive and collectively exhaustive—components.

Another important design thinking principle is “ideate and iterate.”  All too often we jump on an immediate solution (“Let’s do some focus groups!”) without considering all the ways we might solve the immediate insight problem.  Design thinkers, on the other hand, start by generating many potential ideas about how to solve a problem, test those ideas, refine the “survivors” and test again.  Instead of a “let’s do this” approach, design thinkers repeatedly ask “what if we did ….?”

The design thinking approach relies on “rapid prototyping”—transforming ideas into tangible objects or experiences that users can interact with.  In terms of insight generation, rapid prototyping for “information design” is especially valuable.  Imagine that, instead of getting a static report with standard charts and tables, your team is able to sit down with data visualization tools, interact with the data and actually test a variety of different ways of representing the information in the data.

When it comes to designing an insight solution, design thinking is fractal.  We can apply the process to sub-units—the design of a survey questionnaire, sample plan, and report as well as the overall design of the solution.

The value of design thinking applied to generating market insight comes from ensuring that we are both solving the right problem and that we have the right solution.

Click here to see an infographic overview of design thinking.

– David Bakken, PhD, Chief Insight Officer

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