Design Re-Thinking: The route towards customer centricity

We live in a world that is more VUCA than ever: more volatile, more uncertain, more complex and more ambiguous. Think about how consumers increasingly demand great experiences AND great convenience, not wanting to compromise (what has been coined as bothism). Or the fact that development cycles are getting ever faster and more agile. Or the increasing pressure on brands to stay sticky and relevant to consumers. All of this increases the need to embrace a more active approach towards customer centricity. Yet, traditional market research with its in-person, offline methodologies is struggling to keep up with this VUCA world, lacking the tools to support brands in its route towards consumer centricity.

So, how had we best harness digital to stay fast and agile, to engage consumers continuously, but with the necessary depth of insight and breadth of validation?

This article brings you the vision of Scott Lee, Managing Partner & Senior Client Partner APAC Region at InSites Consulting, and of Marcus Lui, Executive Director at Design Thinking in Action (DTIA).

Connecting design thinking and communities

Around three years ago, we witnessed a spark between design thinking and insight communities. This trend deepened over the years, with insight communities becoming a supercharged medium for the application of design thinking.

Certainly, the two share synergies that differ from traditional market research. Practitioners of design thinking and insight communities share a passion for a more human approach to research and have long espoused the need for greater authenticity and transparency in the way we engage users and consumers. Design thinking tasks itself with giving people greater agency to shape the products or experiences in their lives, whilst insight communities, especially in a branded context, aim to give people more say in how their ideas and feedback shape brands.

About online communities

An insight community is an online platform where people are invited to participate in a brand’s research activities. These platforms come in different shapes and sizes, ranging from pop-up communities for a few weeks to ongoing communities with 1,000s of customers. While communities were originally used for qualitative exploration or quantitative validation, over time they’ve evolved into a hybrid methodology that can provide a 360° view on consumer needs, frictions and aspirations.

More than any other methodology, insight communities now offer an always-on window on consumers’ lives, a space to meet in their natural habitat, to capture moments of truth as they happen, to get broader and deeper contextual insights. They allow brands to collaborate with consumers over longer periods of time, facilitating iterative, longitudinal research, and this with a wide variety of people.

About design thinking

Design thinking originated in the 1960s and is in essence a human-centered problem-solving approach. It helps to align stakeholders around an empathy for users’ challenges and recently gained traction in many organizations. By harnessing an iterative process of divergent and convergent steps – the so-called classic Double Diamond’ model – it involves stakeholders and users in the journey of solving the right problem in the right way.

More fundamentally, design thinking helps brands navigate ambiguity and complexity, by deriving patterns from complex data sets to define problems to solve. It also fosters interdepartmental collaboration and ensures consumer centricity of solutions at every step. Like communities, it helps to make your brand VUCA-proof, not by relying on the past to extrapolate to the future, but by ensuring through exploratory research that you are ‘doing the right thing’, before ‘doing it right’ by embedding validation research.


Better Together

Traditional design thinking relied heavily on in-person ethnography and multiple stages of F2F workshops, in-person product or UX tests. As the process often felt long and laborious, it wasn’t unusual for people to start applying the design-thinking badge to any project, while ignoring the rigor of a full ‘Double Diamond’ approach. So, we needed a solution that allows to practice design thinking in a more efficient and scalable way. That is where insight communities come in. We started to explore how to apply design-thinking principles to clients’ insight community activities and research roadmaps.

Brands getting up close and digital

For L’Oréal Hong Kong, we are running an always-on insight community of 2,000 Hong Kong consumers, which is home to weekly online and offline insight activities. In addition to regular tactical activities, we also introduced a design-thinking process, which encouraged the team to step back and empathize with consumers’ perspectives around personal subjects like sensitive skin.

Following a mixture of profiling surveys, mobile ethnography and one-on-one interviews, members of the community that suffered from sensitive skin conditions were invited to join the client in a co-creation workshop. The client discovered a consumer journey with sensitive skin that descended into a feeling of helplessness. Not only were sufferers unable to find the right solution, they also struggled to define the problem with their skin. Asking client stakeholders to prioritize consumer problems as ‘how might we’ opportunity statements, created that crucial feeling of empathy, that switched the team’s way of thinking to: how might we make it easier for sensitive skin sufferers to understand their skin? Subsequent digital solutions focused more on helping consumers diagnose their skin issues. This was also an apt metaphor for how to tackle research projects with a design-thinking mindset, to spend more time understanding and defining the problem, rather than jumping to the recommendation or solution.

Check out how we combined online community research with design thinking, for Bupa Hong Kong, and Standard Chartered.

Closing the gap on customer centricity

In today’s VUCA world, the customer-centric approach to problem solving that design thinking affords, is increasingly relevant for brands and businesses. It enables agile and iterative solution development throughout the innovation process, it prioritizes challenges to optimize resources, and it defines appropriate performance criteria for better impact measurement.

By integrating design thinking with digitally-enabled customer engagement and insight tools such as insight communities, brands can expand their market research to gain broader user empathy. The integration of these ‘tools’ affords a continuous window on the lives of consumers: greater exploration, iteration and validation throughout the research, and better impact measurement.

Ultimately, a digitally-enabled version of design thinking – coined by us as ‘design re-thinking’ – is helping brands organize themselves to better enable the continuity of the consumer learning process – notably the awareness, understanding and application of user insights, and completing the innovation loop through definition of performance measurement of solutions.

Curious for more? You can read the full article and more case illustrations in Quirk’s Magazine.

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Online Insight Communities

Online Insight Communities

Research communities, online discussions boards, bulletin boards, insight ecosystems… what’s in a name. In this bookzine, we bring clarity by defining four different community types, each linked to a concrete research need, illustrated with best practices. 

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