If you want to innovate and bring new solutions to old problems, ask yourself if your customer research is innovative. 

A recent study by  IKEA into  co-living spaces is a good case in point. The study asks what co-living will look like in 2030 when there will be 1.2 billion more people on the planet with 70 percent of these people living in urban areas where space and resources will be limited. IKEA's goal is to understand what is happening today, so that it can design and develop products for the future.

To do this, IKEA's future living research lab Space10 launched One Shared House 2030, a survey that was developed by interaction designer Irene Pereyra of Anton & Irene. I highly recommend you try it out, both because it's fun and because it gives you real-time data as you're doing it. An amazing 60,000+ people have already taken the survey.

 inline image

Here is what makes IKEA customer research innovative:

It's an experiment.

Everything about the survey from its design to it's game-like interaction communicates, "We're experimenting here!" The IKEA team is out to explore the new--in new ways--and they're not afraid to try things. This intentional pioneering spirit is key if you want to explore new frontiers. 

Next time you're designing your research, ask yourself if you're being experimental enough. In other words, are you experimenting with your experiment?

It's empathic for its subjects.

The research and its style was inspired by a documentary Pereyra did about her own co-living experience from when she was a child, growing up in shared housing for mothers and kids called Kollontai in Amsterdam. Her story gives authenticity to the survey and creates a deep sense of empathy. It is that sense of empathy that draws us in and helps feel the complexities of co-living? Do people want to share toilets? Do they want someone else to use their bedroom if they're not there? How much sharing is too much sharing?

If you want your innovation to be empathic, start by making your research empathic. 

Even research can be beautiful.

Good design is pervasive, and here even the research is visually beautiful. The survey is striking with bold geometric shapes and intense colors ranging from pink, green, orange, and purple assigned to its different categories: demographics, pets, tolerance, personality, and privacy are just some of the headings. It's inviting and makes you want to participate. 

Design your research tool to be beautiful--it, too, is a design after all.

It's playful.

From the start of the survey, you're told that One Shared House 2030 is a playful research project. It's designed more like an app than a survey with music and pop-up windows.

It sets the stage as if in the future. You want to do it, and it captures your imagination.

This reminds me of something Jocelyn Wyatt, CEO of IDEO.org, advocates: "When stakes are high, levity and playfulness are critical to the process."

If you want lots of people to participate, make your research playful and game-ify it.

It is not about the future, it's in the future.

The survey doesn't ask you to imagine the future--it sets the whole survey in the future. From the first interaction, it tells you that it's 2030. The world is more crowded, 70 percent of us are living in cities, we're all a little closer, there's self-driving cars and smart technology. In this new world we're sharing services, spaces, and goods so much more. Simple as it sounds, it is effective as setting the scene in a science fiction film. It is 2030, so what will you do?

You want people to imagine the future? Take them there.

At the end of the IKEA survey, take a look at the results. One take away is that, on the average, "people think being neat and tidy, honesty and being considerate are the most important qualities in a house-member". I agree.