Approach. Understanding human action and experience
We help leading organizations understand, empathize with, and design for the people who matter the most to them. With our expertise and experience in cultural anthropology, linguistic anthropology, medical anthropology, behavioral economics, and design research, we draw on today’s experiences to identify what is possible tomorrow and, in the process, to make innovation easier to navigate.
For us, it’s about people. What restricts many companies from being truly innovative is how they think about, talk about, and engage with people. We believe the people we study are much more than a collection of consumption patterns and practices. We engage our participants as complex human beings and—as a result—we connect with them empathetically on an emotional level. Understanding as much as possible about the lives of consumers is essential, as this is the only way to understand the context in which your business or brand touches those consumers’ lives.
And it’s about being strategic. We embed the “so what?” into our insights with frameworks that link the richness of contextual understanding to the implications for the business problem at hand. Beyond human insights, our research extends to how we deliver to our clients. We make sure that delivery always takes the client’s context into account.
Ethnography • Ethnography is the art and science of telling stories about people’s lives. It’s how we study people in the spaces and places where they live, work, play, shop, eat, and imagine the world around them. Equal parts research and writing, it draws on interdisciplinary methods and social theories to produce insights based on narratives of experience. When led by our team, ethnographic observations, activities, and interviews are how we get people to open up and share the most intimate details of their lives.
Context Labs • Context Labs are our antidote to the focus group. Designed to identify experiences, needs, and ideas, they are one of the most potent ways that we uncover rich, actionable insights into the social, cultural, personal, and professional practices that shape people’s lives. Held in informal environments and conducted through participatory design activities and conversation in small groups of four to six people, Context Labs give people an active voice in imagining the products, services, and experiences that will best fit into the context of their lives and fulfill their needs.
Insights Documentaries • Insights Documentaries are an effective and powerful way to socialize insights. Our anthropologists and in-house film production team produce videos that capture the depth and context of those human experiences that will inform and impact our clients’ key business challenges. Typically composed of content that includes interviews and footage of activities or events relevant to the project, most Insights Documentaries are ethnographic in nature. These films capture the imagination of stakeholders, adding an emotional component that better harnesses buy-in as the project evolves.
Anthro Scans • Anthro Scans gather and analyze ideas and information from diverse sources to illustrate how human culture and social behavior might shape engagement with new products, services, and experiences. By drawing on scholarly sources and market-specific media, Anthro Scans are how our anthropologists locate the themes, theories, and signals that can fall through the cracks of face-to-face research. Anthro Scans are typically applied in two ways: in multinational projects to ensure teams align ideas with the diversity of cultures, and to help clients immerse themselves in the critical, complex human themes that will ultimately shape the acceptance of innovation solutions.
Agile Anthropology • This iterative approach to research ensures that our methods and insights are adaptive and responsive to the particularities of a client’s business problem. Agile Anthropology begins with a rapid synthesis of existing consumer research to identify gaps, and then deploys a targeted research program to fill in the missing pieces. Unlike traditional research that is scoped prior to the onset of a project, the Agile Anthropology approach allows us to pivot in real time, leading to highly targeted problem solving and strategy creation for clients.
Archaeological Modeling • Our anthropologists scour the fridges, closets, cupboards, drawers, garbage bins, and medicine cabinets of people’s homes to talk about products with them and create inventories of ownership, storage, display, and identity. While we certainly gather valuable observations about the hierarchies of specific products and brands, our real goal is to uncover insights into how identities are shaped, experiences are contextualized, and both self and culture are expressed by the things in our lives.
Life Logging • Using a digital logging platform, we moderate mobile logging activities that capture the experience of a participant in the moment and in context. Participants conduct self-documentation over the course of days or weeks using photography, written journaling, or video capture. These activities provide a firsthand account of the sights, emotions, and beliefs that consumers have around a particular area of focus. Life Logging captures moments and interactions that consumers are often unable to clearly articulate, thereby extracting more nuanced information to inform insights.
Digital Ethnography • To understand online sociability and communication and decipher the role mobile devices play in people’s lives, our anthropologists have developed a Digital Ethnography methodology that combines cutting-edge practices from the social sciences with a deep understanding of digital technologies and online behavior. Our Digital Ethnography is a suite of analytical tools and methods that captures the what, how, and why of online or mobile interaction. We reveal the rules of engagement in addition to the content and impact of what people are doing and saying online.
Co-Creation Labs • Whether we have models, fully functional prototypes, participative design activities, or just paper, scissors, tape, and magic markers, our Co-Creation Labs are where we use “technologies of imagination” to spark ideas in the people we engage with during research. Whether conducted with lead users or with regular folks who understand the need for a better product or service, these informal and creative sessions allow us to gather insights, identify pain points, and evolve and refine ideas, concepts, or prototypes with the people who need them the most.
Immersion Journeys • Immersion Journeys can be effective methods for inspiring innovation, especially when buy-ins or socialization can make or break an idea within a large organization. These semi-guided tours led by our team expose clients to the people, places, and experiences that can help make an idea richer, more real, and more relevant. From local restaurant scenes to exotic global markets, we immerse client teams in the social, sensual, and human side of experience.
Segmentation Deep Dives • Deep Dives are Idea Couture’s answer to the strict rigidity of consumer segments. While segments are a helpful way of categorizing consumers based on demographic or psychographic measures, they do not capture the fluidity and dynamism of human behavior. Through upfront ethnographic exploration, Deep Dives uncover the key contexts that shape behaviors, attitudes, and perceptions. Behavioral economic quantitative methods are then used to measure the impact of these key contexts. The result is a rich, precise, and dynamic understanding of the factors that shape when and why people use the products and services they consume.
Quantified Journey Maps • Quantified Journey Maps are experiential maps optimized for strategic decision-making. In addition to providing strategic direction by visually grounding insights and experiential data, Quantified Journey Maps measure the significance and importance of the breakpoints, pain points, touchpoints, and opportunity areas in the customer journey. They tell us how many customers experience a given touchpoint, how these customers feel about a given pain point, how many customers fall off a journey at a given breakpoint, and so on. Armed with this information, Quantified Journey Maps inform decision-making through a data-driven prioritization of opportunity areas, touchpoints, pain points, and breakpoints.
Custom Experiments • Custom Experiments are grounded in behavioral economic methods that measure the changes in behaviors, perceptions, and attitudes that result from any kind of intervention. Experiments can evaluate internal initiatives that foster innovation or employee engagement within organizations, as well as consumer-facing initiatives that impact customer experience. Our team of behavioral economists and social scientists work in collaboration with clients to develop a tailored experimental design. Their work ranges from full-scale projects that use up-front ethnography to develop hypotheses and a rich understanding of the target population, to rapid-fire engagements and everything in between.
We are a new breed of insight practitioners • With a team comprised solely of MAs and PhDs from the fields of cultural anthropology, linguistic anthropology, medical anthropology, political science, design research, data science, and behavioral economics, we’re not your traditional market research firm. Bringing deep scholarly and business experience to everything we do, our global team prefers getting into the weeds with the people we are studying rather than gathering insights through a two-way mirror.
It’s not about green or blue • Research at Idea Couture is less about whether someone prefers green or blue and more about understanding the role that color plays in his or her life. Unlike typical market researchers, we think innovation happens when we explore how the contexts of people’s experiences shape their beliefs about color, how and when they use it, and how color impacts the way people engage with the world. By widening the research lens, we collect more inspirational and dynamic inputs that drive more relevant and empathetic innovation solutions.
We connect insights to strategy and design • We hate silos at Idea Couture. They kill creativity, collaboration, and some of the best ideas. We work closely with our strategy teams to ensure that our insights are not only actionable but also that they help shape the ideas we arrive at with our business partners. We also work closely with our design and engineering teams to ensure that the contexts, needs, challenges, opportunities, and hopes that we learned during our research are as fully expressed as our strategic mandate allows.
We make insights engaging • Getting buy-in from senior stakeholders and cross-functional teams can require as much effort as arriving at solutions. When it comes to insights, we make this challenge easier to overcome by engaging internal audiences with world-class deliverables. Instead of yet another PowerPoint, we design books, magazines, short videos, full documentaries, immersive installations, and even quick trips around a few global markets to tap into the power of storytelling and help sell project work up the ladder.
Top 10 ways we connect with people
We ask about people, not just about products
We sit at the table, not behind glass
Whenever possible, we visit people in the places and spaces they live their lives
We approach every project with humility, because it’s a privilege to do what we do
We create and participate in design exercises that relate to broad aspects of experience, belief, and values
We facilitate flexibly and listen deeply, because people like to feel heard
We encourage exploration of things that are meaningful, even if they seem off topic
We go where the conversation takes us, but know how and when to come back
We share our own personal experiences with the rest of the group
We use empathy to imagine the lives of others