We’re incredibly fortunate to partner with clients who want to do good work—they put a great amount of effort into developing high-quality products and services and their sales team actively works to secure the best distribution channels.
As their creative partner, it makes our job easy. Our work simply adds rocket boosters to their existing momentum—but we’ve also seen this momentum often leads to missed opportunity.
While our clients perfect their products and distribution, their focus inadvertently shifts away from the real-world needs, pains, and priorities of their customers. What used to be researched insights become entrenched assumptions. Where there was once empathy with core users there is now a reliance on “demographic trends.” Or maybe there was never human-centered research at all!
And at Skidmore, we know the best decisions always come from human-centered research. So, we take nothing for granted, never letting a business’s internal assumptions influence our work. When we begin a new engagement with a client, we start with a Discovery phase to make sure we’re all on the same page. We learn everything we can about the audience and find out which of our client’s characteristics are most appealing to them.
How do we do it? Two simple rules:
- Stay human-centered. It is always and only about the audience.
- Stay open-minded. Explore with no assumptions or preconceptions.
To be human-centered is to talk to people and listen to them. We want to know what it’s like to be a member of the audience. We put ourselves in their shoes and see the world through their eyes. We do this through first-person research: surveys, interviews, focus groups, and (our favorite!) in-field observation. And because others have gone before us and already gotten to know this audience, we also do secondary research to learn what they’ve uncovered.
The second part of information gathering is to take a good, hard look at our client from the audience’s perspective. What attributes of the company, its people, or its products are strongest? Where are there weaknesses that need to be addressed? We look for clear, unvarnished truths that could become the threads of connection between our client and their audience.
All this great information gathering leads to…
On its own, the information we’ve uncovered is simply a set of facts. Facts about how customers think and feel. Facts about our client. Facts about the competition.
But Discovery doesn’t stop once we’ve gathered all the facts. Our goal is to uncover meaning. We see connections within the research and the implications that has for the work at hand. We generate fresh insights and “Aha moments” that re-engage our client with their audience. And we provide actionable intelligence that gives our client the confidence to make informed business decisions.
All these solid insights lead to…
The Discovery process brings us to the same table—creative studio and client—so the group can establish a mutual understanding of the facts, agree on what they mean, and make smart project decisions that will generate tangible results.
As the creative studio, shared context means our work is firmly rooted in what’s best for the audience. Discovery removes the subjectivity of a designer’s whim, a writer’s personal voice, or the temptation to chase a trend, because it reveals the true north of how to connect with the audience in a meaningful way.
For our clients, shared context means that evaluating and approving creative work can be done with confidence. Discovery has revealed the customer’s needs, pains, and priorities, allowing decision-making to be objective. There’s no more “I think it should be blue,” or “The president’s wife likes polka-dots.” Discovery leads, everyone follows, results are generated.
All this wonderfully liberating shared context leads to…
We’ve noticed a trend with our Discovery work: cross-team usefulness. This fresh, human-centered audience understanding and insight seems to quickly find a home throughout our client’s business!
The product team seizes on it as input in developing products that truly meet audience needs. The customer service team soaks in the empathy of how the audience feels when they call in. The sales team leverages the insights to hone in on more effective distribution channels.
What starts as “Let’s make sure we understand the audience for this creative work,” turns into “How might we continue to develop human-centered empathy as we grow our business?” Clients who are hard-wired to do great work use the process of Discovery to re-energize and accelerate their business momentum.
It’s a lovely three-for-one deal. For the company, everyone gains new audience knowledge. For the brand, it better aligns with customers. For customers, they feel like they’re getting products and services that truly get them. Win-win-win.