How to innovate and design for the new normal

How to innovate and design for the new normal

In our recent blog posts we have presented what “new normal” will result from the global pandemic Covid-19 (C19). Analysts have written extensively on how organisations, Boards and CEO’s in particular should respond to C19 including what they should consider to maximise their potential as the crisis begins to end. One example is a recent article from McKinsey & Company which argues that, in the case of retailers, they need to “gain a deep and up-to-date understanding of customer preferences, envision a new role for their stores in light of these preferences, and execute surgical changes to store formats and in-store customer experience”.

That is all well and good, but how do organisations actually do this? How do you “gain a deep and up-to-date understanding of customer preferences”? This applies to all organisations, not just retailers. The world will be different, customers will behave differently and if you don’t adapt you will lose ground against competitors.

Understanding customers

To understand your customers you need observe their behaviour, measure their interactions and talk to them. This is accomplished using “design research” techniques, ideally as part of an innovation and design framework. If you don’t already have an effective innovation framework, you can look to pre-existing models such as the Double Diamond developed by the Design Council.

We use the following stages to deliver design research for our customers. Each has a specific purpose:

  • Discovery research
    • used first to identify the problem space and opportunity
  • Generative research
    • to translate the outcomes of discovery research into tangible artifacts
  • Evaluative research
    • to support the development of prototypes and designs

It is the discovery research that is the answer to the question of how you gain a deep and up-to-date understanding of your customers.


Person facing a mountain with back pack on and walking pole

Using discovery research for innovation

By definition, discovery research will provide insight about new areas and opportunities. But to harness it for your specific purpose it requires proper planning and an open mind. It is OK to have assumptions and hypothesis about the situation you are exploring but discovery research may disprove these, provide complete alternatives or even suggest this is a dead end.

We use various methodologies to capture data during the discovery phase.  Diary studies are hugely valuable for gathering longitudinal data as participants go about their daily lives. Similarly, observational ethnographic research can provide rich and deep insight. We support these methods with quantitative research, one-to-one depth interviews, focus groups and contextual interviews.

It is critical that these methodologies are delivered properly. Decisions about the future of the business, proposition and operation may be taken based on the insight collected. If the research is not run properly it can result in:

  • Incomplete or poor definition of the problem space
  • “Leading” that bias’s a participant toward an internally favoured idea
  •  Misunderstanding of the insight captured

It doesn’t matter how well executed the work that follows discovery is, if the foundations are built on the wrong insight the outcome will be wasted time, money and opportunity.

An example could be the use of augmented reality (AR) technology. This is a solution waiting for a problem and it is easy for [say] a retailer to define a problem that AR fits. “People can’t go to stores anymore, lets use AR to allow them to ‘see’ things in the home”. Sounds like a great idea, but in fact we have jumped right over discovery research and defined our own problem and even a solution for it.

Discovery research will provide you with the big picture that can inform your innovation and strategy. It will provide you with an in depth understanding of your customers, the needs of the different segments and how these overlap and intertwine. Through this you will identify the spaces you can fill and how you can effectively evolve your proposition to meet the new normal.

If you would like to learn more about how discovery research and support your innovation strategy please call on +44(0)800 024624 or email us at

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