How Market Research Can Help You Understand Consumers' Desire Path

Filed Under: Shopper, Path to Purchase, Understanding Markets & Opportunities


Brenna Ivey

Tom Hulme gave a fascinating TED Talk on what we can learn from shortcuts – putting a strong emphasis on user (consumer) experience. Some of his examples of shortcuts included the walk-through duty-free area at Heathrow Airport and the paths that seemingly inevitably get trodden through grass, even when there’s a paved walkway just a few steps away.

Key to Hulme’s point regarding the use of shortcuts is the cooperation and co-creation that designers and consumers engage in all the time. Designers craft a product or experience, and then users adapt that product or experience to their own wishes and needs.

When Hulme coined the phrase “desire path” to replace “shortcut” in his July 2016 TED Talk, he uncovered what was at the heart of many shortcuts: the way people want to live, and want to behave. The fact is, people are willing to take “the long way” if it’s worth it to them. But why create more unnecessary work? Why not, like the designers of Heathrow Airport, create a duty-free shopping experience along a more direct path? Best of all, why not craft the design around existing usage?

One of Hulme’s most exciting examples is of a campus where the buildings were established without walkways between them. Rather than lay out walkways where students “should” go, the designers waited to see where students actually did go — and then paved walkways over those parts of the lawn. This had a dual effect of both of saving the aesthetics of the grass and creating the most convenient and direct route between buildings, as defined by the students. It both saved money and created the ideal user experience.

The very cooperation and co-creation Tom Hulme advocates for in his TED Talk is at the core of market research. Rather than trial-and-error experimentation, the “desire path” can be uncovered by simply asking people the right questions to understand what they want, what their lives are like, and how new products and experiences can fit in.

These insights are what researchers live for. Just recently, a client came to C+R with a business question: “Just who are our consumers, anyway?”. Ultimately, they wanted to understand more about the users of one of their products, as well as how that product fit into the overall landscape. Prior to the research, the client was certain that the product was being used in a very narrow set of circumstances. However, after digging into consumers’ lives and desires through a collaboratively designed research project, in partnership with the client, we discovered that consumers were actually making the product a much bigger part of their lives — a great “problem” to have!

Understanding your user’s “desire path” signals to the consumer that they matter — something that is increasingly important, especially among Millennials, who really want brands to care — and ultimately results in better design. C+R’s custom qualitative, quantitative, and hybrid research solutions help our clients understand their consumers’ “desire paths” by building empathy and using our deep perspective to address the whole-business issue. Tom Hulme would approve.

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