Design Thinking and Market Research

Only the combination of approaches leads to success

Companies turn to Design Thinking to find winning ideas for their customers. In this interview, consultant Ingrid Gerstbach and market researcher Julia David illustrate the opportunities arising from the combining of Design Thinking and market research.


Market research and Design Thinking – are these two completely different approaches?

Julia David: Both approaches focus on the customers and their needs, and both consider empathetic understanding a prerequisite. Creating solutions from the users’ perspective as well as supporting companies in developing customer-centric products and services – that is the common goal of both approaches. Therefore, the customer centricity formulated by Design Thinking is nothing new to market researchers like us. However, the methods used in Design Thinking mainly resemble the scope of activities of a qualitative Researcher.


What kind of requirements and expectations result from Design Thinking for market research?

Julia David: In this context, traditional market research is faced with the challenge to create solutions, tools, and structures that do justice to the agility of Design Thinking. For us market researchers, this means to think rather step by step, contemplating each one individually, and we need to focus on the respective stage of the Design Thinking process. Instead of conducting your traditional large market surveys or consumer panels at the beginning of an innovation process, market research is now rather expected to accompany the Design Thinking process with small and rapidly conducted sub-studies with a thematically narrow focus.

As a result, market research will be required and expected to simultaneously accompany and support the development process in Design Thinking with suitable tools – without interrupting or hindering the process.

For this purpose, our toolbox already contains agile tools such as national and international Market Research Online Communities (MROCs), mobile ethnography as well as dashboards, which all allow our customers to retrieve meaningful feedback on very specific questions within a few days.


What kind of role should market research play in Design Thinking?

Ingrid Gerstbach: Design Thinking is a process that utilises quantitative data just as well as qualitative data, analysis just as well as creativity, and explicit knowledge just as well as gut feelings. Now, what is so special about this approach? – Design Thinking focuses on people, not on the technique or method. And it requires you to consciously take a step back in order to identify the real issues and to consciously take the risk of failure.

Market research plays a very important role in Design Thinking. Many people think that analytical and creative thinking are mutually exclusive. However, it is precisely the combination of approaches that makes a difference and only that really leads to success.

Julia David: Exactly! Market research is relevant in every stage of the Design Thinking process. For example, the co-creation approach from market research is a suitable tool for the ideation stage of Design Thinking. Online communities or MROCs can be used for quick feedback rounds in the prototyping stage in order to do justice to all those small and iterative steps of the process.

Therefore, the task of the market researcher is to select the right method and suitable target group or sought-after persona for the respective stage, and to advise the design thinkers in their choice of suitable methods. Furthermore, it is also the task of the market researcher – and here I am speaking from qualitative experience – not only to test the prototypes for functionality, but also to think through the emotional aspects of the ideas and prototypes! Of course, all of this requires that the market researcher knows and understands the design thinking process.

In addition to the traditional purpose of market research – gaining data and knowledge about the investigated subject – in design thinking projects, market research also serves to provide the customer or the design thinking team with a certain market research mind-set. On top of technical skills such as selecting the right method and asking the right questions, it is also important for market researchers to convey to everyone involved in the design thinking process that they must obtain honest feedback from the target group on the prototype. Otherwise it is no use to anyone if there are, for example, misinterpretations due to closed questions, or if conclusions about the whole population are drawn solely based on a single ethnographic observation.


What is particularly important during the empathy stage, that is the initial stage of the design thinking process?

Ingrid Gerstbach: In general, one should not underestimate Design Thinking. It takes years of practice and experience before you can actually apply it successfully. Especially when it comes to empathy! In order to find solutions that really are moving, you have to fully understand your target person, and you need to have a clear grasp of their actual needs, desires, hopes, fears, and worries. As a design thinker, usually your job is to develop working solutions for other people. For this to be possible, you have to let go of your own feelings and develop empathy for the people. You need to begin to understand who they really are and what is important to them. A suitable tool for this would be a survey, or more precisely an empathetic interview and observation.

Julia David: The same is true for market research; the empathy stage also requires many years of experience. Empathy, listening, openness – none of this just can be acquired in just a one-day workshop. Instead, it requires a certain attitude and mind-set on the one hand, and on the other hand lots of experience with conducting qualitative interviews and the respective techniques. More particular techniques such as ethnography or morphological in-depth interviews also require substantiated psychological and methodological training.

Here, market researchers actually assume the roles of trainers and coaches, enabling agile and cross-divisional project teams to acquire methodological skills and techniques. Later on, project staff will not have to do their job perfectly, but it will help them to take the perspective of the customers and to better understand their needs, requirements, and desires. Even small, seemingly minor everyday finds, which sometimes have nothing to do with the actual topic at all, serve as sources of inspiration for developers, designers, or other project staff in the development of other solutions or services.


To what extent is it possible to lower the quality standards of market research in the early stages of prototype testing? And when should high-end market research take over?

Julia David: It is in the nature of the design thinking process – particularly in the early stages of prototype testing – to quickly receive feedback as to whether the critical point was actually correctly identified and addressed in the first solution developed. For this purpose, market researchers are free to provide tools with a slightly lowered scientific standard in order to allow quick testing and feedback.

However, the further one advances in prototyping and the more detailed and specific the solutions are worked out for the target group, the greater the operational significance of the results. Hence, high-end market research tools come into play at this stage; particularly those providing valid and reliable data and a sound basis for relevant decisions. In practical terms this means that sometimes six interviews can be enough to receive significant feedback – but in that case, those six should also be perfectly recruited, properly interviewed, and systematically analysed. This also does require methodological competence and experience.

However, during no stage of prototyping should market research ever be seen as a killer of ideas, but rather as a source of inspiration.


Market research departments are quite common in corporations. How will Design Thinking be established in the corporate world?

Ingrid Gerstbach: Design Thinking changes an entire corporate culture and should therefore only be applied with caution, care and with an expert who comes directly from the field and has a lot of experience. It is about picking up the company where it stands and establishing the new mind-set by gradually introducing new perspectives and a new culture of communication. Training and coaching on the job significantly ease the process. I also always recommend my customers to take a project directly from their own company, from real life. This way they are also able to share the results with others and subsequently carry Design Thinking deep into the structure of the organisation.


What kind of influence will Design Thinking have on market research?

Ingrid Gerstbach: Market research significantly improves the quality of interviews, surveys, and data collection, but also the amount of time it takes to find the right target group. Their statements are usually also more objective. This is important in order to gain an initial understanding, so as to not be tempted to think too quickly about solutions. 


What kind of changes will Design Thinking cause in market research?

Julia David: In the field of Design Thinking, market research will learn to accept the mind-set of Design Thinking. On the one hand, this means using already existing market research tools more flexibly and quickly. On the other hand, however, this also means to guarantee a smooth transition between inspiration drawn from users and reliable market research with high quality standards. This gives market research a great chance to establish itself as an integral part of innovation projects and to be viewed as holistic support.


holds a degree in psychology and specialises in industrial and organisational psychology as well as market and advertising psychology. She works as Senior Research Consultant in the Consumer and Retail Research division at Produkt + Markt.

is a business psychologist and management consultant with a special focus on Design Thinking and innovation management. She mainly supports medium-sized companies in developing changes and innovations.



Related articles

It doesn’t always have to be face-to-faceQualitative and hybrid methods of online research make it possible to dive deep into the world of users any time, any place. From the large number of tools at our disposal, we have selected five which our clients commonly like to more
HealthyLivestock 2nd NewsletterThe HealthyLivestock consortium is working under high pressure on solutions to decrease the use of antimicrobials in the pig and broiler industry in China and Europe. Furthermore the consortium wants to reduce subsequent residues in the food chain and environment by more
European WIN Meeting 2020The European WIN Meeting 2020, (W)Innovation that works, was held in Paris last week, on 23-24 January. The event focused on innovation within the market research sector, and many interesting projects and insightful experiences were more
Work in partnership - How MROC and Design Thinking can collaborateMROC’S are unbeatable when it comes to agility in innovation processes such as Design Thinking! Even so, they are still all too rarely found in Design Thinking. In planung & analyse, Julia David and Heiner Junker describe how MROC’s and more
Measure how the customer relates to a brandBRAND|GRAPH provides an unbiased, multifaceted and standardized measurement of brand relationships using the intuitive “language” of structural constellations (position and viewing direction).   BRAND|GRAPH enables comparisons: Brand more
P+M trains international design thinkersBuilding, crafting, inventing effectively – As an innovation approach, Design Thinking is also becoming increasingly popular with companies. Therefore it is all the more important for us to make our proven methods and our expertise in the field available more
Trying times for German farmersIn addition to tight liquidity, unresolved political issues and challenges surrounding agricultural production make it difficult for farms to plan for the future. In many regions, the prospects for the 2018 harvest are very poor. In the coming months, the effects of more
Design Thinking: Peeking behind the scenesBuilding, crafting, inventing effectively – Design Thinking (DT) transforms dull workshop meeting rooms into colourful incubators filled with innovation. In daily business, so-called „DT sprints“ have proven to be particularly effective. In their article in more
9th Innovation Breakfast Hamburg:Join us and learn from behavioural economists about the vast opportunities of Nudge. Wouldn’t it be great if you could effectively modify consumers’ behaviour in the way you wish? Nudge allows you to do just that. Join us in September for our 9th Innovation more
Agriculture: Economic sentiment remains subduedAs of March 2018, the economic sentiment among German farmers continues to remain subdued. This concerns the assessment of the current economic situation and even more so the expectations for the future. According to the latest data of the Agricultural Business more
Patient Centricity: Closer to the patient with IN|SPIARYHow do patients master everyday life with their ailments? How are they doing with their treatment? What things are going well, and where are they facing challenges? What should support and information services look like in order to be of actual added value for the more
Prescription behaviour: Keeping an eye on the doctorManufacturers of prescription drugs do not only focus on the patient, but also on the doctor who prescribes the product. In planung & analyse, Katja Birke demonstrates implicit techniques that can be used to uncover effectively invisible attitudes and motives – more
Design Thinking is taking over the business worldDesign Thinking is currently one of the most popular methods when it comes to systematically creative, customer centric innovation. In combination with the proved core competencies of market research, this approach successfully leads to innovative products and services more
10 new Certified Facilitators Design Thinking for P+MDesign Thinking is conquering the corporate community and poses new challenges for the market research industry! Currently, Design Thinking is probably the most popular method for systematic, creative, and customer-centric innovation development. However, many steps more
Online communities: optimising touch points and customer journeysEvery contact with a brand can be a moment of truth. In order to make the customer experience and customer journey as pleasant as possible, it is essential to identify and control touch points reliably. In their article in the magazine Research & Results, our more
BRAND|VIEW – Do you know your product’s personality?BRAND|VIEW brings your product to life and in an inspiring manner shows you how your brand would master everyday life. This enables you to directly grasp the personality of your brand and to apply that knowledge i.e. to your strategy. What type of questions does more
Hit the mark creativelyCreative Problem Solving (CPS) is an excellent approach to finding innovative and imaginative solutions along the customer journey. Heiner Junker is a certified CPS facilitator and certified facilitator Design Thinking and explains what this method is all more
Experiencing Creativity First HandWhich methods may provide us with even deeper insights into our target groups? There’s a solution: creativity. Under the motto “Experiencing creativity first hand”, Produkt + Markt invited customers and experts to participate in a workshop on creativity in more
Deep InsightsSuccessful innovations are not just simply lucky shots. They require hard work and the right kind of inspiration. But how does one find the idea that does not flop after its commercial launch? Online communities provide valuable opportunities to develop new ideas more
From Insights to IlluminationWhat is the best method to tap into creative consumers’ potential to generate innovative ideas? One possibility is our online community IN|SPIARY; it combines their creative potential, the stimuli of everyday life, inspiring facilitation and creativity techniques. more
When products find their voiceHas your product ever spoken to you directly? Does it feel well positioned or rather neglected? This notion stretches conventional quantitative and qualitative interview methods to their limits. Structure constellations may help to clear up the situation, since they more
Product Market Research of the FutureWhat do international experts predict for the future of product market research? Members of the international WIN network discussed this question in a panel held by the journal planung & analyse. WIN is an association of independent market research and polling more
VAL|LERYAnyone who wants to convince a group of people needs to know what really moves them. But how can you reach the inner mind of your customers? How do you uncover thoughts and feelings that can be hardly put into words? With VAL|LERY, we have just the right, implicit more
The optimal price in a globally interconnected marketOne product, several countries, competing prices. In this international context, how can one find the optimal price for a globally interconnected market? The tool AlasCaCEO allows you to determine precise, transnational, profit-oriented price corridors on an empirical more
Which flea&tick treatment would you choose?Before customers decide to purchase a product, they encounter many different touch points during their customer journey – also online. When measuring the relevance of those touch points, online touch points often seem to perform much worse than the traditional ones, more
Brilliant ideas do not grow on treesA great idea hardly ever really comes out of nowhere. At the beginning of an innovation or ideation process, there is almost always a fuzzy front end, characterised by qualitative creative techniques. Now, how does such a fuzzy inkling turn into a truly brilliant idea? more
Touch me if you canWebsite, social media, or maybe rather analog letters and circulars? For effective and efficient customer management at B2B enterprises, a fine-tuning of all relevant contact points is becoming more and more important. Successful implementation requires accurately more
Optimisation of Touch-point PortfoliosThe Internet and social media have become some of the most important sources of information in our daily lives, privately as well as professionally. Hence new media are also becoming more and more important as touch-points. But is it worth it to neglect traditional more
Qual and Co-Creation – An inspiring CombinationQualitative market research and co-creation complement each other perfectly; they are, however, completely different disciplines that each require very distinctive skills. When applied properly, they may provide very inspiring insights into the hidden desires and more
TREND|CAFÉInnovations are essential for every company. Nevertheless, this can be quite a challenge. Unfortunately, great ideas don’t just fall into one’s lap. So what is the best way for you to generate ideas, gain insights, and to discover trends? What are the needs of your more

Your cookie & privacy settings
This site uses third-party website tracking technologies to provide and continually improve their services.
I agree and may revoke or change my consent to privacy at any time with future effect.