No matter the model of innovation you use, whether you call it design thinking, human-centered design or service design (or Norman) – whenever you start on the journey, you’ll start by building consumer or customer empathy.

And we researchers know a thing or two about that.

There’s seems to be a big disconnect between the world of “insights” and the world of “design”. Insights or Research is too frequently pigeonholed as the providers of death-by-powerpoint decks of chart after chart.  Large-scale quantitative surveys with lots of numbers and sophisticated analysis. Many charts, but limited true insights. There’s no argument (from me at least ) that the market research industry needs a shake up.

Whilst the research industry hasn’t been watching, businesses have found a new way to conceptualise the innovation process.  Design Thinking, Human Centred Design, Service Design. Frustrated with the slow moving nature of traditional market researchers, or perhaps just unaware of them, this new industry has embraced research in its own way and brought consumers ’to the boardroom’ in a way that traditional market researchers can only dream of.

The disconnect between this new world of innovation teams and the research industry is disappointing.  Researchers can offer so much more than death-by-powerpoint (in fact, we’d prefer not to do that!).  Researchers with skills in qualitative, semiotics or ethnographic research can add a lot of value to the innovation process.

Three ways that qualitative researchers can add value include:

Adding rigour and innovation to your research design. Researchers are experts in designing a research approach that best meets the research needs. They can assist in designing lines of questioning, and can also train internal stakeholders on the best ways of approaching their own research.  The new generation of researchers are extremely collaborative, and welcome the opportunity to work closely with internal teams.  Researchers may also have new and different techniques to getting to the insights you need in a more efficient way

Experts in Human Behaviour. Qualitative researchers are trained to understand human behaviour, particularly seeing past users stated and rational responses.  People don’t always say what they mean or mean what they say, and researchers have been trained to get to the heart of this and explore the truth of a situation. Many methods encouraged by design thinking schools are overly rational and risk coming up with only surface level insights.  The Five Whys is a horrible technique to use with end users and from what I can see, it was never designed to be used that way.  It forces rationality and defensiveness in the interviewee -being repeatedly asked to justify a belief or behaviour, but is one I hear being encouraged again and again amongst UX and HCD professionals. There are much better ways to get to the heart of a behaviour.

Easing the analysis process. Researchers who have been working with qualitative and ethnographic data over a long period of time have the expertise to help streamline the analysis process. In addition, researchers have a solid understanding of human behaviour.  Experience in psychology, behavioural economics and wider behavioural sciences allows them to go past stated response to uncover deeper meaning.  Involving a researcher in the analysis and ideation process can only help get to deeper insights in a more efficient way.

And that’s just the start.  Work in partnership with a research professional to upskill your team and your research approaches – you won’t regret it.

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