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Craft Key Insights

Learning Objectives

After completing this unit, you’ll be able to:

  • Explain how to synthesize data into insights.
  • Explain how to narrow down to key insights.
  • Define what opportunity areas are.
  • Explain the value of a job statement in communicating customer needs.

What Is an Insight?

So you’ve planned your research and conducted your first session. Congratulations! Odds are you learned a lot, and you may have walked away with some quotes that do a great job of communicating important information. In order to make this information useful for your work, your team, and your stakeholders, you have to synthesize the raw information you collected into insights.

Insights are foundational discoveries and understandings of the truth. Born of a combination of evidence and empathy, insights explain the how and why behind observable behaviors, phenomena, or constructs. And they catalyze people to think about how to nurture or improve upon what’s true today. Insights form the basis for strategy design unlocking opportunities for innovation and leading to ideas that are meaningful to people, creating real value. 

Crafting insights is part art and part science. 

“Download” Your Research Learnings

After a research session, collect what everyone on the team learned and transfer it onto a shared board for everyone to see and reflect on. This step goes by several names. It can be called a research download, synthesis, clustering, affinity mapping, or affinity diagramming. 

Whatever term you use, your entire core team should be present for this session, as it’s a key activity for creating a shared team understanding. Even if the whole team wasn’t able to observe the research session, they will benefit from the conversation. Pause your notifications and bring your full attention to this activity.

Start by having each team member who attended a research session put the important learnings—observations, information, and quotes—they collected from that session onto sticky notes, with just one idea per note. (You can also do this virtually using FigJam, Miro, or a similar online collaboration tool.) Important learnings may relate to key user needs, expectations, value drivers, constraints, or any aspect of the challenge context. Pro tip: Synthesis takes time! Set aside an hour to synthesize each hour of research. 

On a shared board—either foam core, whiteboard, or virtual—team members add sticky notes to the board one at a time, sharing why they think that information, quote, or observation is important, or elaborating on what’s written on the sticky note. Team members can ask questions, share different interpretations of what they saw, and do whatever they need to do to quickly process the information.

If another team member captured the same or similar learning, they typically chime in, adding their own perspective on what is important about it, and stacking their sticky note with the original, with the most descriptive note on top. 

Two members of a design team synthesizing research learnings at a whiteboard.

Sometimes team members capture conflicting data from the same session. This is the benefit of having diverse perspectives on your team. Different people can see the same thing differently, and in complex situations conflicting truths can coexist. Assume both data points are true, and note the tension between the two pieces of information. Decide whether to dig a bit deeper in the next session, to understand any nuances.

Team members take turns sharing their sticky notes of data until everyone has had a chance to share their key learnings from the research session. The team then clusters all the data they collected by theme or topic, and labels the theme according to what’s inside. The themes don’t necessarily have to relate to each other. For example, based on one research conversation, you may have a theme about emerging needs and another about sustainability. In each case you know what’s inside the category, but the categories are not related to one another.

Sometimes solution ideas or new questions come out of research synthesis. Team members should create sticky notes with them and share those too, but place them on a separate shared board so they’re not confused with collected data or research learnings.

After your first research session, you may decide to stop here. Clustering by theme might already be telling you something about what’s important to your participants. 

Repeat this synthesis process after each individual research session, creating a new board to “download” your team’s collective learnings. You can start fresh and see what themes emerge naturally, or—especially after multiple sessions—you may begin to see patterns in the learnings and themes and can start your subsequent download sessions with the established themes. Don’t force it though. If the learnings from a given session don’t fit the themes you identified from a previous session, create new themes and explore that new space!

Refine Insights

Once you’re done with your initial primary research and have downloaded each individual session as a team, take out your pictures of your synthesis boards, grab a fresh board or workspace, and get ready to move some more sticky notes around. 

The next goal is to process the learning you’ve collected as a whole body of knowledge, rather than individual sessions. You may want to work with the themes you’ve already created, reorganizing them and combining information from several sessions together, and coming up with new themes. Or you may ask your team members to hypothesize the categories of your most important learnings, write them down, and find the sticky notes from research downloads that provide the evidence and empathy to support them. Evaluate and reevaluate what's important and why. Ask yourselves, "Are we solving the right problem, or have we uncovered a different problem that seems more important?"

As a team, think critically about the most important things you learned, given all the sessions and everything you now know. Bring sticky notes over to the fresh board, whether they contain quotes, themes, or individual pieces of data. Discuss why they’re important. These are your candidates for key insights.

You’re not aiming for a specific number of them at first, you’re judging them on how important and inspirational they are for your design challenge. And again, this is the benefit of having a diverse team. As you process and prioritize what you’ve learned all together, it’s important to make time and space to hear out all the perspectives on your team. 

This is the part that’s more art than science. No one can tell you what’s most important about what you learned. Your team has to figure that out, and come to a collective point of view on it. 

Once you’ve collected the most important themes, quotes, and topics, start turning them into insights: statements about the truth that represent evidence and empathy. 

Here are some example insights.

  • “Early experiences with doctors create attitudes and expectations that last. Trust and confidence over time lead to loyalty.”
  • “There’s a common awareness of the nuances of good energy and bad.”
  • “Relationships—real ones—drive insurance decisions, often more than understanding of risks and options.”
  • “‘Maker’ is a behavior mode; the same person can be a maker at home and a developer at work.”
  • “There is such a thing as ‘too easy’.”
  • “For our athlete, sport lives in and supports a busy and varied lifestyle.”

You may notice that these insights don’t specifically refer to a product, project challenge, or brand at all. These are truths about customers and their lives and contexts, and they are backed by evidence and empathy from the many research conversations the team conducted. 

You may also notice that the insights aren’t revolutionary or even surprising. The point isn’t to be innovative at this step of the process, it’s to articulate those fundamental truths on which you can build meaningful products, services, and connections with customers.

In isolation, individual insights don’t point toward opportunities for design. But in combination and with a design challenge statement giving them context, 5–10 insights begin to form a point of view on the kinds of strategies an organization should pursue.

Once you’ve written your insights as statements, evaluate them again, and as a group. Do you see opportunities beginning to emerge? Keep refining your insights until you do.

Define Opportunity Areas

When you share key insights, you are creating some compassion for customers and shared understanding of the challenge. Your stakeholders will then want to know what you can do with those insights. So define opportunity areas before sharing your insights. 

Opportunity areas are high-level statements about specific types of solutions to the challenge that design can drive. If your How Might We (HMW) is the problem framing, opportunity areas are the solution framing. They sit at a strategy level and start to show what you could do to solve your challenge statement. They help your stakeholders think critically about how to approach solutioning before you even start to design. 

Opportunity areas have:

  • The kernel of a product, service, or experience idea; the desirable aspect of what your research uncovered
  • The way you can deliver on your brief and drive value for your customers
  • The way you can differentiate from other offers in the market and other products/services your organization already offers
  • The potential for impact you see in this opportunity (we could become the leader in ___; we could expand our market footprint by ___; we could create a new revenue stream by ___; and so on)
  • Initial visualizations of some distinct design directions that could come out of each opportunity area. This helps people understand the opportunity, and keeps your conversation at the level of strategy rather than execution.

Opportunity areas begin to reveal what an organization “could” do to solve a design challenge, but it can feel very lofty and theoretical. Bring the opportunity areas down to earth with job stories.

What Did Cloud Kicks Learn from Its Research?

After the team’s research in external, internal, analogous and competitive contexts, Cloud Kicks made sense of its findings by identifying patterns with each group through affinity mapping. It then brought the core ideas that emerged into an insights workshop. Collaborating on a FigJam board, the team was able to take insights from each audience and turn them into opportunities for design. 

Here are the insights and opportunities the team surfaced from their research. 

Audience  Method  Insights Opportunity for Design 

Diverse Sneaker Users

Group conversation with stimuli 

Enthusiasm for the brand continues and understanding of the supply chain challenges. 

Strengthen patience as part of brand loyalty with existing users. 

Sneakerheads (Super fans and collectors)

1:1 interviews

The virtual world is almost as real to sneakerheads as the real world, and users invest in their online personal brand.

Create a virtual world experience that gives customers their brag moment even before their order arrives.

Other Industries: car, lumber, and fashion 

Analogous research

Offerings emerging for customers to see their products using apps, games, and VR.  

Innovate new ways for customers to experience sneakers while waiting for delivery.

Customer Service Team 

Internal interviews 

Confusion on if and how to communicate about wait times on shoe delivery.

Expand approaches for customer service to communicate delays.

Manufacturing Team 

Internal interviews

Ability to predict delays in the supply chain is improving. 

Develop systems to communicate predictions with the greater Cloud Kicks team.


Competitive Analysis 

Tactics to be more transparent and authentic (messaging, forecasting AI, customer service) are being tried across the industry.

Connect technology and customer service for transparency and authenticity in customer success.

Communicate Customer Needs with Job Stories

When you have a good understanding of the opportunity areas, you can begin to write job stories from the JTBD framework. These frame your opportunity areas in terms of customer goals, showing what your audience would achieve if they purchase your solution.

A Cloud Kicks job story might be:

When I'm super excited about the custom sneakers I designed for myself, and waiting for them to arrive

I need an easy way to find out when they’ll arrive and what’s taking so long

So I can stay positive and plan my moment to show them off to my friends and family

At first blush it may look a bit like an Agile user story, but they’re very different. User stories explain a feature or task to be built, after a solution has been designed. Job stories are like mini-briefs, which describe a larger goal and the functional, social, and emotional needs behind it. They do not contain a solution.

Create one to three job stories for each opportunity area you’ve identified. If you need a refresher on how to create job stories, check out our Jobs to Be Done for Designers module.

You just learned how to do a ton of great user centered design work. But as we know, an important part of assuring your project’s success is bringing your stakeholders along for the journey. In the next unit we discuss how to communicate about the activities you’ve done in your initial design research phase.


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