Saturate and Group Method
This method of design thinking focuses on transforming a physical space and saturating it with visuals, thoughts and ideas pertaining to the question being researched. This saturation of ideas can help uncover new and unexpected connections and associations between concepts, which may, in turn, become unique solutions to the problem at hand. This method could be considered a type of physical (and collaborative) concept map where grouped ideas can reveal direct or indirect links with other idea groups.
I have experienced a handful of times where a similar method was used to explore extended branding and marketing campaigns with multiple media components, though the method was not used for research purposes, but rather for idea generation and consistency in brand message. By saturating our walls with ideas and visual explorations, the team was encouraged to provide feedback, critiques and ideas throughout an extended period of time (vs. a one hour ideation session, for example). It also encouraged other co-workers who were not in the team to offer feedback, and in many instances, inconsistencies and missed opportunities often rose to the surface.
I am eager, however, to implement this method to research the design problem instead of just for ideation, as I can see how it can provide great value and answers much earlier in the creative process. It seems like it would be a really good way of taking into account more of the surrounding context to a design problem, which could enrich the solution by helping the designer empathize with the user more easily.
Composite Character Profile
This method is a collection of characteristics, behaviors, features and traits from a number of individuals that are then synthesized into a single, fictional character (a stereotype of sorts) to better understand a particular user segment. These character profiles (a.k.a. personas) are often given a name, a face and even a story describing what a day in the life of this person could look like. Multiple personas are often created, each detailing a particular user segment, which helps researchers gain a quick (though generalized) understanding of the audience.
In my own career, I have used this method multiple times to keep the design problem focused on the user, and not the client’s or our own perspective. It is a great tool to gain a better understanding of the surrounding factors that may affect an individual’s decision directly or indirectly, and I find it particularly useful when designing for interactive experiences (i.e. websites).
The process (at least in my case) starts with a series of individual and group interviews of the people we believe will use the product. These include the main stakeholders (usually executives), various internal groups or departments (e.g. hr, sales, distribution), current customers, past customers, potential customers and sometimes even vendors. The interviews focus on understanding a ‘day-in-the-life’ of the interviewee more so than on the design problem we are asked to solve. We then take the notes and findings of those interviews and find common patterns of behavior, which we use to guide the creation of the persona document. Each persona will be given a name and ‘identity’ of sorts, so that when we are discussing a particular challenge, we can remember that we are designing for “Bob,” a real human being with real needs.
In my experience, it is a fantastic tool – though costly to implement (as is any research component). However the benefits of going through the process far outweighs any cons.