June 23, 2020
Within market research, design thinking is increasingly seen as a way of transforming insight into innovation. While there are commercial challenges involved in applying it to market research, the principles are relevant and valuable to researchers. But first, we must make it our own.
What is design thinking?
The Design Council developed the design thinking framework 15 years ago. The process has been adapted by many companies – depending on their own commercial reality – and typically has four stages:
Design thinking adds a simple, but effective structure to innovation. Consequently, it has gained popularity in sectors outside of design, including research.
How can design thinking and market research add value to one another?
Insight is fundamental to design thinking
Stage one uses primary and secondary research. Therefore, research launches the entire design thinking process. If done well, it’s the catalyst for successful innovation. Conversely, if done poorly, subsequent innovations fail – research quality effectively defines the ceiling for success.
They require similar skills
Methodological skills aside, researchers have several crossover skills valuable to design thinking: workshop facilitation with multiple stakeholder groups, insight-led storytelling and – critically – the commercial mindset needed to turn ideas into commercial value for clients.
Design (and designers) are already vital to research
Good design is central to progressive and impactful market research. Design allows for engaging communication with participants and convinces business decision-makers to action insights, delivering a return on insight investment. While not enough research agencies have in-house designers, the importance of design is undeniable.
Why aren’t they frequently used together already?
Design thinking can elevate client-side researchers and research agencies’ role in business by transforming both from insight owners to solution providers. However, this poses a commissioning problem: who should own and fund a joint research/design thinking project – innovation or insight?
In larger businesses, established and hard-to-change innovation processes likely exist already. Even if insight clients see value in one agency owning both, convincing internal stakeholders (or existing innovation teams) is challenging.
Most clients don’t question their research partner’s insight capabilities. However, they may question whether researchers can deliver the entire design thinking process (historically owned by innovation agencies), so research agencies wishing to offer it face a credibility challenge.
Despite the framework’s simplicity, it is sometimes viewed as large and intimidating, which can deter those whose budgets are already spread thinly. However, innovation usually straddles multiple departments (insight, marketing, R&D). Therefore, a cross-funded approach can work to provide proof-of-concept.
So, how can we make design thinking work for clients?
These challenges may prevent research from owning the entire process. However, design thinking is, in part, effective because it collapses a long, complex process into four manageable, understandable stages. Research can, and should, own at least part of this process.
How much you consider applying design thinking depends on your access to design skills and the fit with your client’s internal innovation procedures.
There are four ways of applying design thinking you could explore to see the value of a combined approach:
Everyone in market research wants to increase their perceived value to businesses. Design thinking allows this by increasing insight’s involvement in innovation. At its best, research defines and leads marketing strategy. Design thinking gives research the chance to define and lead innovation, too – so pick an application, and make it your own.