Using Research Insights to Inform Design

How Headjam uses ethnographic research to inform customer experience design.

How can we improve visual merchandising and customer experience to increase product sales? That was the question that Headjam asked Standing Man. Using interviews, secret shoppers, observations and data externalisation, we were able to generate insight statements that uncovered areas that could be improved. These insights allowed us to write design ‘what if…?’ statements. These now drive the visual merchandising and customer experience changes that Headjam deliver their client.

The Client

Headjam creative agency is based in Newcastle, Australia. Headjam delivers branding, graphic design, advertising campaigns, marketing, video production, print media and web and digital services. Specialising in health, education, arts and community projects, their work stimulates change.

The Challenge

For one of their clients, Headjam had established a goal of increasing product sales in-store by improving the visual merchandising and in-store user experience. The team at Headjam had already discovered, through observation, a few areas of customer service that could be improved. However, in order for them to propose improvements, they needed some research to back them up; not just isolated observations.

Headjam engaged Standing Man to answer the question:

“Focusing on visual merchandising and service delivery, how can we increase product sales?”

As Luke Kellett, Principal at Headjam, notes: “Sometimes agencies need external providers like Standing man to help provide external opinions, a new perspective and observations.”

The Project

To answer this question we created an ethnographic research project consisting of six activities:

  1. Secret shopping – secret shoppers were assigned tasks to be completed. Upon completion, they answered written questions and responded to verbal questioning. Four secret shopping missions were conducted at two stores.
  2. Service provider interviews – four staff members from two stores were interviewed using informal qualitative questioning.
  3. Data externalisation and analysis – service provider interview results were transcribed to sticky notes (externalised) and synthesised on the project wall. Data trends were identified.
  4. Making observational statements – common data resulted in the creation of observational statements describing phenomenon observed in the data (not observed in real life).
  5. Extracting insights – for each observational statement, we asked why the observation might be the way that it is. The resulting inferred information formed insight statements.
  6. Identifying design ‘what-ifs…?’ – the insight statements allowed us to develop what-if statements that help define the boundaries/aims of any design interventions.

The Results

This research generated 69 pieces of evidence and data that were externalised on the project wall. After synthesising all this data we were able to identify 10 key insights and an astonishing 27 design ‘what ifs…?’.

Here are two examples of the observation, resulting insight and design what if.

Shop staff lack the confidence to explain the products they sell.

Shop staff lack the confidence to explain the products they sell because they’ve neither seen nor tasted the full range. They don’t know how they’re made or what ingredients are used.

What if shop staff had an opportunity to learn how to make a product under the guidance of the baker/decorator?


Shop staff say that customers have a hard time choosing a product.

Shop staff say that customers have a hard time choosing a product because they do not know what’s in them and what they look like inside.

What if there were photos of the inside of the products in store?

In addition to these findings, the researcher made 10 first-hand observations and identified another 2 opportunities to improve customer experience.

Ultimately, all of these findings can now be utilised by Headjam as the starting point, the data basis, for designing visual merchandising and customer experience interventions that will increase their client’s product sales.

When does this kind of project make sense?

If you are thinking about changing something in your business, such as the products/services you offer your customers or the way you offer them, it makes sense to gather data as the basis for any changes.

We often make assumptions about our customers that are incorrect. By gathering data using qualitative and quantitative techniques, you reduce the risk of making false assumptions and improve your understanding of the people who buy what you sell.

Methods Used

Secret Shopping – Observation – Interviews – User Journey Mapping – Data Externalisation and Analysis – Insight Statements – What ifs…?

Work with standing man
The insights and what if statements have provided us with the basis to take action. We’re helping them sell more product while strengthening repeat business.Luke Kellett, Principal, Headjam