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Thinking With Our Hands

Using "Design Thinking" to remove the separation between the creative and research process for insights teams leads to lower knowledge loss and greater consumer centricity.

This post is part of our Big Ideas series, a column highlighting the innovative thinking and thought leadership at IIeX events around the world. Janine Katzberg will be speaking at IIeX Europe 2019 in Amsterdam. If you liked this article, you’ll LOVE IIeX Europe. Click here to learn more.

Imagine you get up in the morning as normal, you rub your eyes, get out of bed and shower. Suddenly it comes to you: a ground-breaking idea pops into your mind, you know straight away it might be a big breakthrough. You jump out of the shower, get on your phone and start researching on the net and call your friends to find out if others are excited as you are. When everybody confirms you’re a genius, you start thinking about how to build it, rush to your garage to build a prototype so you can show it to possible investors.

Now imagine the same situation: an idea hits you, you jump out of the shower, research the net, ask your friends and just when you are about to run to the garage someone appears in your bathroom door saying: “Could you please transfer all the knowledge you just gathered to me? Preferably, in a 20 slide ppt. I need it to help me ideate.”

You might laugh – but this is often the way of the research industry: insights and the creative process/ ideation are traditionally separated. Ever since the early days of Ford we know that the division of labour is highly efficient – but who’s to say that the same is true for innovation processes?

Time to re-think the separation of research and creativity.

I was fortunate to work on an internal innovation project in collaboration recently with a start-up using Design Thinking as the preferred method.

Since we had very tight turn-around times and a limited budget, a traditional research approach was out of scope, plus we wanted to try something new. As you may know: Design Thinking encompasses 5 steps: emphasise, define, ideate, prototype and test. Steps “Define” and “Test” are traditionally the research parts, the other phases are normally the domain of creative agencies or the end-client, not researchers.

This pilot project was shaped differently: the research team was involved in all stages, meaning that we as researchers had the opportunity to ideate on the basis of our insights ourselves, and translate them directly into prototypes!

I felt just like Newton and the apple: it suddenly dawned on me how outdated, wasteful and inefficient this separation between the creative and research process really is.

Time for a paradigm shift! We’ll be presenting the full case in Amsterdam in the IIeX – so if you can make it, great, otherwise please get in touch.

Jumping to the end of the whole case study: what’s the value of joining analytics and creativity at the hip?


  • Capture complexity. The knowledge accumulated during the discovery phase by researchers speaking to many different users is invaluable, multi-faceted, and often complex. To reduce all these rich learnings into a report or presentation means a lot can get lost. Seeing and experiencing things, people, their behaviours and emotions first-hand is multi-layered, often unexpectedly inspiring – and often very difficult and time-consuming to reduce into words, however great a wordsmith you are. Prototypes are different, physical objects are often hugely expressive, tactile and more able to capture this complexity since they can also embody subliminal or subconscious knowledge.



  • Nothing gets lost. Translating insights and results directly into prototypes by those closest to the insights means nothing falls between the cracks. Transferring the same knowledge to a third party is often cumbersome and carries the risk of knowledge loss.Let’s not forget: there are plenty of creative tools and exercises that we as researchers master, have at our finger-tips that help channel energy. So why not have the researchers make the creative leap? And it saves time.


  • Nose-to-tail consumer centricity: empowering researchers to become first-hand user-ambassadors means that what was actually unearthed, discovered from end-users, their unmet and unarticulated needs, the emotions, the context – all this gets genuine representation throughout the entire process – not only during the “understanding” part, but also during ideation and creation.


So what’s holding us back? Why is it still not common to invite researchers for creative and innovative processes? Research agencies are often still understood one-dimensionally as only suppliers of data.

It is often forgotten that we can be the people best able and placed to put our findings into practice. As researchers we think about the understanding of users and people on a daily basis – of course we automatically think about the execution as well! Time to make use of that skill.

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Janine Katzberg

Janine Katzberg

Senior Project Manager, Happy Thinking People