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MRX Lab Podcast

Exploring new & novel conversations from the fringes of the insights industry.

Episode #5 - Principles of Design Thinking in Market Research

In this episode of the MRX Lab podcast from FlexMR, we look at the practice of design thinking and its relevance as a philosophy to market research and insight. We frame the context in which design thinking principles can be most effectively applied and break down the process into its component parts. The discussion also touches on learnings that we can take from design thinking into our day-to-day activities, but cautions against overuse or broad, sweeping generalisations that often pervade such narratives.

There’s already a fair bit of debate around whether design thinking principles can apply to research processes. But much of this discussion is centred on the soft skills and considerations that design thinking encourages; the work that goes into matching necessity to utility, constraint to possibility, and need to demand. In this episode, we instead look at the practical elements – the tangible ways in which proponents of design thinking work to create new, products and services.

We start with an exploration of the types of challenge that design thinking is best placed to solve. Because it is certainly not a one size fits all solution. The philosophy specifically seeks to address wicked problems; those that are messy, ill-defined and which there is no simple way to approach. On a global, societal level – there’s an abundance of examples. Climate change, biodiversity loss, persisting poverty, the advancing obesity epidemic, and food insecurity are all wicked problems. For researchers, this highlights that we shouldn’t attempt to fit design thinking principles into questions around product success, customer service or marketing. Principles are best applied to difficult, wider, business-oriented questions.

How should we develop product or service lines further? What market factors aren’t we aware of? What do our customers, think, feel and believe? These are all questions which cannot be answered in a linear fashion.

To evaluate how design thinking can help with these questions, we examine each of the five stages in more detail: empathise, design, ideate, prototype, test. We look at the elements involved in each phase to build an end-to-end design cycle and the important role that research plays throughout.

Finally, we look towards three key lessons that can be taken from the process as a whole and applied to our work as researchers. These are: getting comfortable with scrappy prototypes, taking a position, and looking to the past, present & future simultaneously. The episode concludes by finding value in the general principles upon which design thinking is based – highlighting that while there are lessons that the research industry can further dissect, there are also specific instances and challenges where a full design led approach is not just appropriate, but hugely beneficial.


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