The assumption that Market research comes before Design research is misplaced. While it can help you predict values in numbers, market research cannot help you innovate

In order to create and own our innovation, we need to gather user insights before understanding the value or capitalization of innovation. As design research practitioners, we put Why before What and that’s precisely the point.

Organizations of the future are the ones that innovate rapidly and continuously. Design research can help you prepare for that future.

In recent times, design practices significantly moved upstream compared to traditional practices... which means that you should engage a design research consultancy like ours before you delve into Market research. Design research could help us identify opportunities ahead of the market, which would mean that we are just one step away from pioneering the next move. As a Design research company, our methods and tool-sets are oriented towards the user and more often than not, we delve into Primary research methods (finding information and insights on our own vs. using secondary sources). It is this approach that makes our Design research practice far more realistic and tangible to you and your users.

Key takeaways

  • Through our research methods, our focus is to delve into the unknowns and find opportunities around what’s not obvious at the moment. By using many of the research methods and best practices, we can orchestrate a user-centered vision for you.
  • There is a great amount of potential in understanding the “Why”. Through our practices, we go after this fundamental question that is foundational to your investment. More often than not, the answer to “Why” is articulated around the User. Our end goal as a design research company is to delight your users, and that means the question of “why” has to start with understanding their needs and wants.
  • Our research methods have been developed over years of practice in problem solving, identifying opportunities,and validating assumptions. More importantly, our associations with reputed academic institutions, innovators and industry bodies puts us within arm’s reach of the greatest minds in this world. We are carrying the latest thinking and methodologies that will put you at a great advantage in your market.

Think Design’s research practice

Design research is much more than validating Design; and we discovered this early on. Oftentimes, you come across seemingly simple questions that take you forward with ill-informed assumptions. By not delving in deeper, you may end up spending a lot of resources on Design; and by the time you reach the stage of validation with your users, the answers are either too obvious or inadequate. Our research practice comes in handy before, during, and after Design exercise: Applying this could significantly optimize your efforts and investments. What’s more, your fundamental approaches will be better informed and empathetic to users’ needs. This means that your efforts are likely to witness far higher adoption.


Think Design’s Golden Grid

Many a time, we come across a challenge that needs quick resolution and we choose the route of prototyping and testing instead of researching the problem further. Unfortunately, the field of design research is relatively new and tends to be too esoteric, meaning that designers fail to use appropriate methods to get the right answers at the right time. This leads to trivialization of research practice, disbelief in the subject or a total resistance to practice it in organizations. At Think Design, we took the initiative to create a simple yet very powerful framework that design practitioners in our organization and outside can immediately use.


Information/ Evidences/ Data

Methods that involve observation and analysis of information/ data.

Outcome: Understanding or insights based on recorded or real-time information.

  • Trend Analysis
  • Time Lapse Video
  • Audio/ Video Analysis
  • Document Research
  • Usage Analysis
  • Heat Map Analysis
  • Critical Thinking
  • Diagnosis
  • Social Network Mapping


Perceptions/ Opinions/ Validations

Methods that involve observation, questioning and/or testing with users or representative users.

Outcome: Understanding or insights based on what people said or demonstrated.

  • Surveys
  • In-Depth Interview
  • Focus Group
  • Unfocus Group
  • Shadowing
  • Fly On The Wall
  • Extreme User Interviews
  • Card Sorting
  • User Testing/ Validation
  • Five Whys
  • Dyads/ Triads
  • Personal Inventory
  • Word Concept Association
  • Contextual Inquiry
  • Tree Test
  • Concurrent Probing
  • Retrospective Probing


Hypothesis/ Synthesis

Methods that involve exercising empathy by thinking and doing.

Outcome: Hypothesis or synthesis demonstrated through visual or verbal communication.

  • Character Profile
  • A Day In The Life
  • Heuristic Analysis
  • Audits
  • Predict Next Year’s Headline
  • Prototyping
  • Role-Play
  • Be Your Customer
  • Informance
  • Role Reversal
  • Simulation/ Modeling
  • Body Storming
  • Scenarios
  • Try It Yourself


Experiences/ Design Bases

Methods that involve immersing in context and experiencing the situation by probing.

Outcome: Understanding or insights based on researcher’s own interpretation of context.

  • Workshop
  • Brain storming
  • Participatory Design
  • Ethnography
  • Business Model Canvas
  • Task Analysis
  • Guided Survey
  • Visit Survey
  • Customer Segmentation

This framework allows us to choose appropriate research methods based on our orientation, on-the-ground challenges, as well as operational concerns such as sample size, time at hand etc., We broke-down the research methods into four quadrants, primarily formed by two intersecting lines: While we have See and Act on the ends of one axis, we have Probe and Think on the other. Fundamentally, all the research methods we have so far and in the foreseeable future are based on one of these four approaches: Observation, Interviews/ Discussions, Action/ Experiential/ Performance based or Synthesis/ Analysis/ Diagnosis . This is so fundamental that it can be applied to all disciplines, not just UX or Product development. Further, the underlying concept behind developing this model is our understanding that “Research leads to Learning" and hence, we used principles of learning to create this model: Holistic learning needs Knowing, Reflection, Action, and Feeling in equal doses. At Think Design, we recommend atleast one research method taken from each quadrant in order to get a holistic understanding of the situation or problem at hand. You can learn more about using the framework below.

Research methods

Social Network Mapping


Let’s take an example: Say, we want to know the opportunities, and functional needs of the prospective users for an app centered around football in the United States. The first reactions toward the app can be “Yet another app? Who would use that? Didn’t you know that users frequently use only five apps on their phone? How would you make money with this?” or “Football is the biggest sport in the United States, just go for it. There’s a huge opportunity around food while watching football, do something around that”.Both of these perspectives lack depth and are guided by assumptions of "known threats or opportunities…” and both of them are equally dangerous to pursue.

While conventional wisdom tells you to go after known threats or opportunities, a User-Centered Design researcher would pursue a different set of questions:

  • What are the unmet needs of football viewers that could be met by digital interventions?
  • What are the economic patterns around football?
  • How could we do this differently?

Using our Research framework, we can clearly articulate our approach to find answers to these questions.

While there are a host of research methods, understanding which ones to choose in which context relies on having theoretical understanding of the method and the experience of actually applying them.
See + Think

See + Think:

To understand the economic patterns, we would Research documents around the economy of football over time. More importantly, we would comprehend changes over time, among the industries that are centered around football.

See + Probe

See + Probe:

To understand the unmet needs of football viewers, we would conduct in-depth interviews with them. We would also employ concurrent probing method while the user is watching a match either on his TV, mobile, or in a stadium.

Probe + Act

Probe + Act:

To understand how we could do this differently, our design research consultancy would conduct extreme user interviews. Down the line, we would brainstorm ideas with stakeholders in order to bring in cross functional teams’ participation.


Think + Act:

Finally, we would prototype our Design. Prototyping could be quick and dirty or in the form of hi-fidelity clickthrough mockups. We may go to the extent of front-end interactive prototype, if the situation demands testing detailed user interactions.

By employing the above research methods, we will not only be addressing the questions asked, but also likely be innovating something that wasn’t imagined earlier. None of the market research techniques that exist today, could help you achieve this.
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