Customer research

From WikID

Customer research (CR) is used in design to gain empathy for the user and to design for real needs. The understanding of consumer needs is said to be an important determinant of new product success, and therefore of large strategic value. On this page, the application and some methods for different design phases are explained. [1]

Application and effect of methods

The most often used CR methods are not per se the most effective. This is shown in Figure 1.

Customer research methods.jpg

Figure 1. The use and effectiveness of CR methods[2]

For radical innovations, the understanding of consumer needs is far more abstract than for incremental innovations. Then, this information is often not directly extracted from the users, as is the case with regular CR methods, but for example from peers, experts or the context. This is for example the case in design-driven innovation.

A guideline for the organization of customer research can be found here: [1].

CR methods for opportunity identification

Market structure perception

Kelly repertory grid – In the repertory grid method, a participant is asked to compare three products with each other. The results are mapped in a grid and then analyzed. With this method, the researcher can get insights in the participant’s interpretation of product categories and his motives.[2]

Category appraisal – In this method, the participant is asked to fill in a questionnaire in which he has to rank or rate aspects of a product selection. Then, factor analysis is performed. This method is applied to gain insights in the purchase drivers of consumers.[3]

Purchase motives

Free elicitation – During free elicitation, participants associate to stimulus words, in order to uncover abstract attributes that participants unconsciously relate to specific topics.[4]

Laddering – Laddering is a technique in which an interviewee is asked for the reasoning behind a product preference. The interviewee is repeatedly asked why, until no new insights are found. The answers are used to create a means-end-chain, in which the values that underlie certain attributes are shown. [5] Laddering is sometimes quantified with the Structured Open Association Pattern (SOAP) method, in which questionnaires are made based on the attributes found in laddering.[6]

Zaltman Metaphor Elicitation Technique (ZMET) – ZMET is a technique in which a participant brings pictures on a specific topic to an interview, based on which he is asked to tell stories. Often, the laddering method is applied in order to find the reasoning behind the elements of the story, and a mental map is created with the pictures.[7][8]

CR methods for needs identification

Needs assessment and idea generation

Interview – Conversation in which a participant is asked questions about a specific topic, in order to get specific answers, validate hypotheses and explore topics.[9][10]

Focus group – Open-ended group discussion, guided by a topic guide, that is used as an exploration of a topic.[11][12] Empathic design – With empathic design, routine behavior is observed, in order to get an idea of the actual use and motives in the use of products.

Consumer needs in a specific area

Consumer idealized design – In consumer idealized design, several groups of participants design a solution in a specific area. This results in a list of preferred specifications.[13][14]

Ethnography – In etnography, researchers perform diverse types of fieldwork, in order to get insight in the culture and context of the new product.[15][16]

Lead user technique – With this technique, designers make use of the lead users to generate solution data for radically new products, in order to make advantage of their advanced knowledge on the topic. Lead users are often found by surveys and contests, and ideas are then generated in creative sessions.[17][18]

CR methods for concept contribution

Concept development

Conjoint analysis – In conjoint analysis, participants judge hypothetical product profiles in order to establish the relative importance of product attributes.[19][20]

Product configuration – With this method, participants configure their preferred product in a computer programm with selected adjustable attributes. In this way, researchers can find the preferred combinations of attributes.[21][22]

Co-creation – During co-creation, designers have creative sessions with stakeholders, in which ideas and solutions are designed together. In this way, all perspectives are integrated in the result.[23]

Concept testing

Interview – see methods for need identification

Focus group – see methods for need identification

Questionnaire – Method for quantification of results, using an paper or online list of questions.[24][25]

Product usability testing – With product testing, participants are asked to interact with the designed product. In this way, designers can verificate their intended interaction.[26][27]

Information acceleration – Method in which participants are placed in a virtual buying environment, in order to measure their preferences and purchase intentions and thus the sales potential.[28][29]

Data analysis

For more information on data analysis of customer research, see these sources:

  • Analysis of qualitative data.[3]
  • Analyzing and reporting of focus groups.[4]
  • Data analysis with SPSS.[5]


  1. Course: Customer Research. Lecture: Method overview. Teacher: dr. Mariëlle Creusen.
  2. Cooper, R. G. and Edgett, S. J. (2008). Maximizing Productivity In Product Innovation. Research Technology Management, 51(2), pp. 47-58.
  3. Spiggle, S. (1994). Analysis and Interpretation of Qualitative Data in Consumer Research. Journal of Consumer Research, 21 (3), pp. 491-503.
  4. Rausch, M.J. (1998). Analyzing and Reporting Focus Group Results. In R.A. Krueger: Analyzing and Reporting Focus Group Results, Sage Publications, pp. 94-95.
  5. Field, A.P. (2009). Discovering statistics using SPSS: and sex and drugs and rock 'n' roll. London, Sage.
Personal tools
Aspects & Domains