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Co-designing: How To

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Marie-Laurence-Juan -arrondi.jpgInterview of Marie-Laurence Juan (Associate Director Repères, Head of Qualitative Research) by Thierry Semblat (Market research news) on how to co-design.






MRNews: Repères is among the market research institutes familiar with approaches based on co-design with an interesting track record...

Marie-Laurence Juan: We are indeed one of the pioneering companies in the implementation of this type of approach, having been one of the very first research institutes present in Second Life. The story dates back a bit, but it was quite surprising how this social network was a huge success in the beginning only to decline in popularity soon afterwards. All the same, it was a great learning experience for us. Especially with the project for the renovation of the public gardens in the Parisian Les Halles district. The lessons learned with that project are still proving to be very useful in projects we are conducting today. 


What lessons did you learn with Second Life?

It was a defining experience for us. The most important thing it taught us was that co-designing works and that it provides valuable help in developing innovative projects. We realised that certain individuals who are a few steps ahead than others can contribute radically new and even brilliant ideas. But we also learnt that this creative ability is not just the attribute of trail-blazers and that it can apply to anyone as long as the right approach is adopted. Co-design, based on the principle of the consumer being at the heart of the process, also seemed to us to be an efficient means of reducing the risk of failure in innovative projects - which we know happens roughly in 80% of cases - without, however, eliminating the risk altogether.  


Currently to which types of problems and in which sectors do you apply co-design approaches?

The scope is huge. We started a few years ago with the renovation of a public garden. We also apply these approaches for things such as perfume and deodorants, theme parks, restaurants, banking products... Products ranging from those which address basic needs such as food, to leisure products and even aspirational products, all these segments can be approached with the same methodology. The only condition is that the consumers should be involved in real-life situations to which they can relate. With Second Life, we even worked on the money of the future, which enabled us to predict quite a few emerging trends in the field of parallel economies.


What are the key aspects you identified as essential for such approaches to work?

My first conviction is that you must never neglect the fundamentals, you need to be extremely rigorous about insights. For such a creative approach to work, for it to produce the best possible results, the prerequisite is the generation of strong and relevant insights. This is true for all creative research, including co-design. These co-design procedures even induce an additional difficulty which is that of generating too many ideas. One therefore runs the risk of ending up with a difficultly exploitable jumble of ideas if one doesn’t start by defining the routes down which the creative research needs to be channelled.


Is this rigour in defining the routes to be followed a condition for ensuring relevance?

Exactly. Then come a whole series of convictions founded on a central point, the importance of putting the consumers in context when conducting creative research. It is necessary to fully understand that consumers won’t propose the same ideas when they are physically present, in other words, in a situation in which they are buying or consuming a product, as when they are on line or in a virtual environment. For example, if you put consumers in an environment which is too new, too unfamiliar, such as found in virtual worlds, this can greatly influence the ideas expressed. For instance, in a co-design project using a virtual environment in the automotive sector, consumers focus almost all of their creative ideas on the interior of the car. This is no coincidence because it comes from the need for them to protect themselves in such an unfamiliar environment! In the same way, co-designing in a totally neutral room may cut people off from any real-life experience or context as to the consumption of the category of products.


Which contexts produce the best results?

It would be too easy if there were only one context. In fact, the main condition for ensuring success is to give in-depth thought to the effects induced by different contexts. These effects need to be controlled, which often requires using different real-life situations. But this brings us back to a key point, which is the importance of the body. We consumers are not just minds and spirits! Our body functions according to a logic of its own. It gives meaning and substance to things. The fact of involving this corporal dimension brings out ideas that might otherwise be missed. It is also an excellent safeguard: the ideas our bodies “accept” have more of a chance of being valid over time. It is necessary to rely on the brain, of course, but without forgetting the body.


The body and therefore the senses?

Absolutely. The senses of the consumers must be called on to contribute. This is true for all the senses, that’s why we work with our immersive polysensory room to help spur creativity?  This is all the more the case for sight which is our dominant sense due to our hominization. It is important to engage the consumers in the co-design process by giving them things to see, whether these may be initial inputs or representations of the ideas which emerge as depicted by a roughman or a designer.


The concept of putting people in context relates to the importance of space. But what about time?

That too is one of the essential components that must be taken into account and mastered. Our bodies and our brains do not function on the same timelines. Allowing enough time is also important to bring ideas out and to give them substance. This also makes it possible for individuals to express all their subjective ideas, even for the most reserved participants, once the inhibiting effect of the natural leadership of certain individuals in a group declines.


Are there other aspects which you see as important about putting consumers in context?

Yes. Our experience has shown that individuals do not produce the same ideas when they’re alone as when they’re in a group. We sometimes forget, but working alone can produce excellent ideas. Here again, the aim is not to give preference to one or the other. However, alternating is needed to ensure one obtains the most exhaustive stream of ideas from the predefined routes. It is also necessary to outline the ground rules for the management of the community. Gamification is good. Most of the time it provides the right stimulation for producing ideas. But this can also give rise to stress which may lead to people proposing ideas which aren’t so innovative. It can even inhibit some people who aren’t comfortable with the game approach.


Which factors are most likely to lead to failure in co-design approaches?

A lack of involvement on the part of the company I believe is a factor which almost certainly results in failure. You can’t expect a miracle if you rely only on the interaction between the research institute and the consumers and wait for a sort of “finished product”. This whole process requires an interaction between three parties, otherwise the company ends up with innovations which are too far from its codes, and which do not address constraints which are unfortunately unavoidable.


How should the company be involved?

Company involvement has to do principally with the mindset, which needs to be open to experimentation and to the inherent risk this type of approach involves. We are often asked during the briefing to guarantee 100% success. Whereas, in terms of probability, if we were able in future to achieve a failure rate of “only” 40%, instead of the current 80% rate, that would represent an improvement, don’t you agree? Suffice to say that it is preferable to give oneself every chance of success and adopt an open attitude to engage in the creative process. In addition, the brand has to show a very concrete and tangible engagement. It must contribute in terms of brand identity, including in its sensory components, its story. The brief must of course be “sincere”, and in touch with the reality of the context of the company in its market segment. The company must also be engaged at the very heart of the process, when it comes to reacting to the consumers’ ideas.


That’s the critical phase in the iterative process between the company and the consumers...

Exactly. It is one of the key factors of success, as we discussed earlier.  We of course accompany the company during that phase, but we can’t take its place. That’s where the relevance of the ideas is defined as a function of the company’s strategic priorities and constraints which are part of the initial guidelines. The company must be in control of this aspect. The company must also be involved at the end of the process, at the presentation of the outputs. The company has to be engaged from beginning to end.



This text was reproduced with the permission of MarketResearchNews Find all the interviews in the Co-design: How To series: Geneviève Reynaud (BVA), Xavier Charpentier (FreeThinking), Lambert Lagrevol (Enov Research), Sylvie Danilo (Biofortis), Laurence Bertea Granet (Harris Interactive).

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