Experience the Question


How can inspiration from the likes of children’s games, and the film Inception, help us better understand what consumers think about new ideas?

Kate Dowler, Head of Research at KD, tells us about three design research techniques that are helping our clients get more meaningful feedback early on in the creative process.

A key skill when running innovation programmes is understanding the potential of early stage ideas. ‘Early’ can mean anything from a simple hypothesis: “What if….” through to early visual concepts, storyboards or models.

Understanding the consumer perspective is an important part of this journey, but exploring early ideas is one of the trickiest types of research to conduct. The ideas we’re sharing are not yet developed, and often intended for a future world. It can be hard for consumers to move beyond the stimulus in front of them to imagining how a fully realised version could change their life.

In addition, many traditional research methods rely on showing consumers early concepts and asking them what they think. What tends to happen is you get an over-rationalised list of pros and cons, but don’t manage to tap into how people really feel about the idea, or how it might influence their behaviour. In behavioural science this is known as System 2 (rational) vs. System 1 (instinctive) thinking.

We’ve been developing different research techniques which elicit much more meaningful feedback from consumers at this early stage, with a focus on approaches that allow people to really experience the question, not just think about it.

Here are three of the best:


One of my personal favourites, disrupter is a simple way of exploring an early hypothesis through running a series of short experiments. The goal is typically to get users to make a change in their life or routine, usually by taking something away or adding something new in. 

For example, if we wanted to understand how to get people to save water in the home, we might set a task where we ask consumers to try and cut down their water usage over a week and record their behaviour. We’d get to understand what their priorities are in terms of water usage. We’d identify key barriers and challenges to changing behaviour, and potentially see some workarounds where people have found ways to use less water without compromising their goals or the user experience.


Cognitive visualization is an immersive technique that harnesses the power of the imagination. It’s used a lot in psychological practice to help patients mentally rehearse an action or create a state of relaxation. During visualization, you close your eyes and create images in your mind, for example, seeing yourself overcome challenges, or recalling a happy moment in your life.

The way we use it is to help get consumers into a future mindset, so that they can respond to early ideas in the right context. The moderator describes the parameters of the future world using a script, whilst participants close their eyes and place themselves into this world. Each person uses their own imagination to create the details: specific sights, sounds, events going on around them – a bit like the film Inception.

By imagining this personalised future world, consumers are much better placed to respond to the ideas we share with them in a future-facing way.


Vote with your feet

There are also some simple techniques to enhance traditional concept research and get a clearer sense of emotional engagement with ideas. Do you remember playing that children’s quiz game with the “Yes” wall and the “No” wall? Questions are read out and you run to the wall you think is the correct answer.  

We’ve been experimenting with a more complex version of this where we ask people to react to new ideas by voting with their feet. Imagine a big matrix on the floor with two axes: one could be “How much you like it” and the other could be “How unique / different”.  A group of consumers start in the middle then individually move to the place on the matrix that best represents how they feel about each idea in turn, to form starting “positions” based on gut feel from which we can probe and discuss further. 

It’s a simple way of getting a better idea of emotional engagement with new ideas, and also helps us have slightly different conversations with each respondent depending on where they are in the matrix.

Why Experience the Question?

These techniques, and others like them have helped us develop clear user stories for the lead ideas that emerge from the innovation process, and give our clients confidence in the creative directions we are taking forward.

If you’d like to hear more about insight led innovation or design research at KD, please contact Kate Dowler, Head of Research, [email protected]

Kate Dowler: Head of Research