Service Design // Ethnography

Leveraging Technology for Cutting-Edge Consumer Research

As our clients continue to focus on differentiating through customer experience, we continuously expand our research capabilities to help them better understand the customers they serve.

While our clients work in many industries, their goals are often similar: understand customers, identify ways to better meet their needs, scale empathy and insights across the organization, and implement ideas to improve the customer experience. In each instance, we apply human-centered, ethnographic research methods to uncover insights into consumers’ behavior, motivations, and unmet needs.

This isn’t new territory. Success—and a lot of Rêve’s work—has long been built on talking to and understanding people. This year, however, we increasingly sought out ways to leverage emerging technology to evolve our research practices in service of our clients’ goals. Bringing new technologies into our human-centered research methods enables us to uncover better consumer insights, gather and apply those insights more often, and more effectively scale those insights across an organization.


More than ever, it’s possible for us to capture customer experiences as they happen, rather than relying on after-the-fact recollection. We leverage apps and software programs built for consumer research to get closer to consumers and connect with them in new ways. For example, in one engagement we leveraged a smartphone app to have consumers keep a journal of specific activities and interactions in the moment. This shifted our research approach away from interviewing consumers and away from relying on their memory of behaviors while strengthening our insights in real-time. The app also allowed us not only to continuously capture events as they happened but also to record video statements and explanations from research participants, which added critical details about people and their context beyond the written descriptions that typical diary studies might provide.


Many of our clients are shifting the way they work to be more lean and agile, allowing them to work in an iterative fashion, developing and testing ideas rapidly. But many organizations that prioritize speed find themselves sacrificing strategy. Too much focus on “shipping” can result in a company becoming alienated from its consumer needs, and consequently straying from its long-term goals. With this in mind, a lot of our work this year has addressed this juxtaposition by approaching research in an agile way while protecting the strategic, customer-centered visions of our clients.

One of the ways in which we draw inspiration from lean and agile methodology is engaging in consumer research in recurring “sprints” throughout some of our projects, rather than conducting a traditional long-term research study which only delivers insights and opportunities after several weeks of observations and interviews. This helps us ensure that our clients get the feedback they need from consumers when they need it, keeping pace with faster development or decision-making cycles. By reaching out to consumers at higher frequencies for shorter durations, we can constantly adjust, iterate, and improve in line with the needs of the consumer as the concept advances.

Agile research at Rêve can take several forms. In some instances, we host research and design sprints in our Dream Lab to bring in consumers for testing while the client can observe and evolve the design concept in real time. In other instances, agility means integrating various research methodologies throughout the course of an engagement (observations to discover needs, interviews to test ideas, and embedded surveys to gather feedback on pilot concepts) to ensure we’re gathering consumer insights and feedback throughout.


At Rêve we encourage our clients to participate in certain aspects of our consumer research activities. This not only aligns with our philosophy of “co-creation,” but also allows our clients to see and hear things directly from their customer. We know how transformative it can be for clients to learn about pain points from their customers first hand. These collaborative learning experiences drive ownership of problems and urgency to solve them. The process also builds human-centered design skills for our clients and encourages them to conduct their own qualitative research on a more regular basis. However, there are several factors that can prevent our clients from participating in consumer research. They often have limited time to participate in the many in-depth, qualitative interviews and observations we conduct, and in many instances (especially with observations or in-context interviews) we need to keep our research teams small so as not to intimidate or influence our participants. In these instances, we’ve found ways to leverage technology to capture customers in their own environments, so our clients can see and hear the key moments in our research in a way that is just as impactful as witnessing it in real time. In order to bring large client teams or entire organizations into the consumer listening process, we’ve used remote connection tools like Google Hangouts, which allow clients to listen to customer interviews as well as video, 360-degree cameras, and virtual reality (VR) to immerse clients in their customer’s context. These technologies provide a scalable, impactful way to get our clients closer to walking in their customers’ shoes, which can build the most empathy of all. The result is co-ownership of insights and empathy built from being “there-but-not-there,” allowing our clients to easily take ownership and socialize experiences with other teams and the broader organization.

Human-centered, ethnographic research is a powerful tool that can help organizations understand their customers and identify opportunities to better meet their needs. As consumer behaviors rapidly evolve and organizations work in leaner, more iterative ways to address those changing activities and needs, research will play an increasingly important role. Emerging technology and new applications for customer research are critical to helping organizations understand customers, scale empathy within their organization, and gather and apply feedback from consumers when they need it, allowing our clients to focus on value rather than just the product.

How will your company leverage technology to discover consumer insights? Contact Ashley Thorfinnson at