How to Successfully Incorporate Design Thinking into Your Research Plan

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What do brands like Apple, Ikea, and Lamborghini all have in common? They all have pretty distinctive designs, and they’ve all been extremely successful. There’s no denying the consumer appeal of an attractive, intuitive, and functional design, but it also plays a crucial role in organizational structure, brand management, and even market research. By applying a designer’s mentality to the accumulation, interpretation, and implementation of consumer insights, research can turn into a catalyst for new ideas and solutions, instead of just a tool for measurement and benchmarking.

Design Thinking: Turning Answers into Solutions

If we listen to a few notable exceptions, it may seem as though designers would rather avoid market research all together. But market researchers and designers actually have a lot in common. Like market researchers, designers set out to uncover insights into human behavior, and both roles use observation and research to gain understanding and create an effective solution.

But while designers tend to think of their job as problem solving, researchers are concerned with finding the answers to key questions. So designers focus on resolving an individual’s headaches and dilemmas through form and function, and researchers respond to an organization’s queries and concerns with data and evidence. By incorporating the following key elements of design thinking in their scoping and study methodologies, researchers can more readily turn research data into effective solutions for clearly defined human needs, designing more compelling quantitative and qualitative research to uncover more intimate insights.

  1. Gather a Team and Stick Together: Gathering and maintaining a team of diverse talents, experience, and perspective will help to ensure consistent communication, a natural evolution of ideas, and build investment in the project itself. Sticking together from ideation through insight to implementation can only maximize these benefits.
  2. Define the Question by Consumer Need: One of the keys to designers’ success is taking a human-centered approach to problem solving. Try grounding your research design in empathy for your target audience by considering the context and consequences of your key questions. Shopper observation, interviews, and in-home usage testing are just a few qualitative research methods that can help animate the consumer at the heart of your study.
  3. Embrace Your Limitations – The constraints of your research, product, and budget capabilities actually help to narrow down the scope of your project, so your team can define a specific objective and run it through multiple iterations. Maintaining a designer’s attitudes towards such parameters will help your team match consumer needs with what is realistic and technologically feasible, converting limitation into opportunity.
  4. Keep Questioning, Keep Iterating: Design thinking calls for an open, curious mindset. Instead of approaching problems the same way every time—even if it works—researchers must recognize opportunities and anticipate trends rather than follow them. Considering as many solutions as possible will help allow for the potential of promising ideas to be realized free from the bias of experience. Encouraging experimentation early and often can reveal winning ideas that may have otherwise gone unconsidered.
  5. Bring Your Findings to Life: In order to help your study design and resulting insights come to life, try to convey the story of your research and findings through something more engaging than a PowerPoint presentation. In addition to stimulating activities for respondents, try engaging your stakeholders in a product-related task or demo that illustrates the key questions and solutions you’ve addressed. By making your understandings more deeply felt, you could even spur other ideas and strategies for similar initiatives.

Thanks to its iterative, human-centered approach to clearly defined problems and emphasis on making ideas feel real, design thinking can provide researchers with a deeper understanding of their consumers as individuals, opening the door to intuitive, functional research design and product development. To see how a major grocery retailer incorporated design thinking into their product innovation process, check out the case study below!

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