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On My Mind Lately… Attitude and Culture

June 4, 2015 – by Brianna

Sylver Consulting is currently seeking a new Quant. Analyst to bring onto staff (see description here). As we meet with candidates and reflect on past hiring decisions made in our 11 years of business, I’m struck by the level of importance that I personally place on attitude — both when evaluating candidates for new positions and when making raise and promotion decisions on our staff.

Our company is entrepreneurial is nature. To some people — like me — that’s beyond exciting. The sub-text that circles in my mind is, “Wow — no rule is unbreakable! The value I can bring to the table is limitless. I can create my own structure, a role from nothing and more importantly, I can make it my own!” These few statements are at the heart of why Sylver exists. Eleven years ago I was a misfit in the industry … not really fitting anywhere that seemed desirable to me at that time. So, I created a position (and a company) that gave me an acceptable container or vehicle through which to challenge the status quo.

Now that we’re a much bigger team, that challenging spirit has not waned. In fact, it’s only grown stronger as we’ve gained both manpower and brainpower in our numbers. We — as a team — excel at challenging the status quo, the way it’s always been done. And we empower and bring comfort through process, to our clients in doing the same thing in their businesses and industries.

What I’ve learned through interviewing and hiring over the years is that what I perceive as a limitless — and empowering — sea of possibility, other people, if not right for this environment, see as daunting, or even worse, judge with disdain. These individuals need the “x, then y” equation of success, the 10 year plan of promotion laid out visibly and tangibly before them. Unfortunately, however, that security of “the plan” is just not ingrained in the fabric of who we are here (and frankly if we tried make it, it wouldn’t be done with authenticity).

What I can say is this though … we value independent thinkers. Everyone here at Sylver is charged to push the boundaries for the collective good of our internal, client and industry communities. To do this is actually part of the job description of every level of employee in the company. And when an employee demonstrates that he/she not only can do that, but also thrive by doing that, we’ll take care of them (despite the lack of the concrete 10 year plan of promotion).

Bottom line, we’re a team of “go-getters” and we’re actively seeking one more. If you think you might be a good fit — for the current Quant. Analyst position or would like to be considered for future positions that become available — please reach out to us at careers@sylverconsulting.com

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How Researching Education Gave Me Insight Into Innovation

June 4, 2015 – by Jen Gzesh

Over the past 2 years, I have been fortunate to work on a number of interesting and exciting projects for a well-respected educational company. I admire this client and revel in conducting research for them, as they have become increasingly open to hearing from their users and using what they learn to better their organization and offerings. But above all else, my favorite part of working on projects for this client is that it has opened my eyes and mind to the depths of the education industry in the United States, and caused me to constantly challenge my own thoughts about education and testing. The more I learn, the more knowledge I seek, and I believe this has caused me to become something of an expert in the areas of education, testing, and workforce development. While I by no means know the solution for the problems that plague the US educational system, nor would I even venture to guess at what the right answers are, my desire to consistently learn more has led me to some interesting finds.

With that in mind, I would like to share with you a TED Talk that I came across and has stuck with me since I first watched it. The speaker, Adam Braun, founded an amazing organization called Pencils of Promise whose mission is to give every child access to quality education. Braun’s approach to and beliefs on education are simple yet poignant. But his ability to think like a true innovator and turn the question of how to fix the education system in the US on it’s head is what stands out to me most. I can only hope that as I continue my work in the education industry and other industries as well that I continue to have the courage to ask the difficult questions and to turn common conventions around to seek a better answer.

I hope you enjoy this video as much as I did.

What the U.S. education system can learn from the developing world: Adam Braun at TEDxUNLV

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Adapting Communications with Slack

June 4, 2015 – by Matthew

We are continually reviewing and thinking about new technologies that can be added to our toolbox that will improve our quality of work. Our current array of active tools includes solutions purchased from third party vendors and technologies developed in-house. (Qualitative research platforms, video editing software, quantitative software, etc.) We also like to be aware of tools that will help make us a more efficient office. Slack is a communication platform that we have been using inn place of email for a couple of months that has improved our internal communication flow.

Email is familiar, clunky, sometimes unreliable, and – most important – ubiquitous. Rounding up, email is convenient. But, email is not an ideal form to support conversation or dialog. Most of our internal communication is conversational in nature while our external communication (clients, partners, etc.) is more transactional.

Slack enables us to leverage contextually specific internal conversation though a series of project and topic themed public “channels” visible to all relevant members of the team and private individual or group channels. Our shift from email to Slack began amongst a small group of team members before becoming promoted as our primary internal communication tool.

New forms of communication technologies – especially tools disrupting familiar experiences – are not easy to replace. Also, the amount of time required to learn and adopt a new technology varies between individuals. Being conscious of individual comfort levels with technology needs to be considered in any transition. Early adopters may be happy to start fresh while those less ready to “jump in” want a more moderated transition with the least amount friction. Slack’s channels can help smooth the transition through a limited but meaningful exposure to the tool. Occasionally we find ourselves chatting through email or using both tools! This occurs when a person may be stressed or distracted (traveling, meeting deadlines, etc.) and returns to what is familiar and intuitive.

Overall, our daily use of Slack is comfortable and productive. The following article provides a great overview of the technology and the potential benefit(s) it may offer you and your organization. Feel free to reach out to us about our experience with Slack.

NYT- The Office Messaging App That May Finally Sink Email

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Forging Connections

June 4, 2015 – by Jean McDonnell

Just a few weeks ago I celebrated my one-year anniversary as an “official” full-time team member at Sylver Consulting. And what a remarkable year it’s been!

I’ve been to Spain (hola!) and Russia (zdrast-vwee-tye!) and traveled multiple times to Dallas, TX (howdy!), among other US destinations. Side by side with my Sylver team members, I’ve interviewed engineers, consultants, teachers, administrators, Millennial teens and moms – and together we’ve deployed surveys to thousands of participants across the globe, including regions in Asia, Europe and Latin America.

It’s been great fun . . . but more than that it’s had the effect of challenging me, stretching me and enriching my own research and consultative practice.

On my 6th month anniversary I wrote a blog post about how my understanding of the nuanced differences between the practice of “market research” (where my roots lie) and “innovation research” (where Sylver plays) had deepened and crystallized into a true “gestalt” experience. Since that time, I’ve come to a fuller, richer understanding of the unique space that Sylver operates in (at the nexus of Design Strategy, User Experience and Market Research) – as well as a deeper appreciation for how my own unique background, experiences and strengths lend themselves in support of Sylver’s unique mission – which is to solve problems through clarity and purpose and via a unique approach to structured process.

Specifically, here at Sylver I’m known as the “connector” – a bridge-builder between people and ideas. My knack is for finding the simple constructs that explain why things (and people) are the way they are and for noticing in what direction they are moving as a result. I’m motivated by an appreciation for the variety and complexity of life – and by the joy of discovering the unifying principles that connect us.

I’m looking forward to connecting with all of you!

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Job Posting: Quantitative Analyst

June 3, 2015 – by Admin

 

LogoDo you consider yourself a trailblazer when it comes to customer insights and innovation? Do you get all “geeked out” when a client poses his/her challenge and you get to custom design the best research plan that addresses his/her question within the constraints of his/her budget and timeline? Do you believe the magic of research happens in the analysis and synthesis phases of a research program? If you answered, “yes” to these questions, please keep reading!

Sylver Consulting is looking to hire a Quantitative Research Analyst who has the skill, knowhow, organization and attention to detail to successfully and efficiently execute, analyze, present and report quantitative research projects. We’re looking for someone who has passion and excitement for working in an entrepreneurial environment, building the quantitative practices of Sylver, exploring how to marry quantitative and qualitative techniques to deepen insight gained on project work and challenging the status quo of how things are typically done, but doing so with a level of rigor in project design and data analysis that is defensible. If this sounds exciting and you have proven success in managing mid- to large-scale research projects and delivering actionable recommendations that support innovation and new product development initiatives, we want to hear from you!

Position: Quantitative Research Analyst

Commencement: ASAP

Location: Evanston, IL. This position is located in an office with highly skilled and motivated research professionals working together in a creative and collaborative team environment.

Qualifications: Bachelor’s degree in a relevant field required (Psychology, Statistics, Sociology, Market Research, Economics and Business). Preferably a graduate degree in a related field or MBA.

Requirements:

-Professional experience must include 5-8 years of consumer insights or market research experience.

-Demonstrated knowledge of quantitative research design, survey sampling, statistical analysis, and data reporting.

-Experience with quantitative research methods, statistical software and data analysis tools to address client issues; SPSS and Excel preferred. As well as experience using Survey Gizmo or similar tools for data collection.

-Demonstrated ability to analyze and synthesis data to deliver actionable suggestions and recommendations.

-Comfort with working in different research scopes, from broad, exploratory studies to narrow, evaluative studies.

-Excitement to marry qualitative and qualitative methods together to address client challenges.

-Strong communication and presentation skills.

-Exceptional organizational skills and keen attention to detail.

-Must be available and willing to travel approximately 20% of the time.

-Must be able to work independently with little supervision.

-Must have the legal right to work in the U.S.

-Business development experience preferred.

-Foreign language skills are also advantageous.

-Previous experience working in both B2B and B2C sectors is a plus.

Duties: The primary responsibility of the Quantitative Research Analyst is to support the design and execution of project work at Sylver Consulting and to help develop Sylver’s image and reputation as a quantitative provider. This role involves working collaboratively with interdisciplinary teams including internal and external members of Sylver and our clients. In this role, you will bring to the team expertise in quantitative research design and analysis. We also expect that you will engage collaboratively with the qualitative experts on the Sylver Team. Responsibilities of this job include, but are not limited to:

-Building the quantitative practice and reputation of Sylver Consulting.

-Conceptualizing and designing quantitative research that clearly aligns to project goals and the strategic business needs for the initiative.

-Preparing quantitative research for field.

-Executing activities associated with fielding quantitative research.

-Analyzing and interpreting the data that emerges from field.

-Finding and communicating the story that the data is yearning to tell.

-Supporting new business development and/or proposal processes for projects involving quantitative research.

-Supporting the cost-effective management of a project.

-Engaging and having a voice with clients, and where necessary educating clients, on aspects of quant. research throughout all stages of an initiative, from initial proposal request through to the final deliverable.

-Contributing to the entrepreneurial atmosphere and energy of Sylver Consulting.

-Taking initiative by staying up-to-date on industry trends, educating staff members at Sylver and external clients on quantitative methods, and proactively recommending improvements to current processes and/or services that exist at Sylver.

-Supporting the future development of Sylver’s various hybrid qual./quant. methodologies.

-Collaborating with cross-functional team members on a daily basis.

-Jumping in to lend a hand or support on activities that might not be expressly within your wheelhouse.

-Performing other duties as required.

 

We are very excited to find the right person who will flourish in an entrepreneurial environment. We are looking for someone who approaches his/her work with a “go getting, roll up your sleeves” type of attitude.

 

Interested candidates should send their profile (resume, cover letter and compensation requirements) to careers@sylverconsulting.com

 

About Sylver Consulting

Sylver Consulting, LLC supports Fortune 500 and other globally focused organizations that are strongly motivated to find growth and operational improvements through innovation. Sylver delivers laser-focused clarity about the unmet wants and needs of its clients’ multi-faceted target audiences. It then translates these valuable insights into new growth platforms for its clients’ products, services, brands and processes. Sylver combines a wide variety of qualitative and quantitative methodologies, user-centered design experience and design thinking strategies to arrive at actionable outcomes for its clients. The firm conducts research and innovation programs worldwide, with a team of stringently vetted research recruiters, ethnographers, interpreters/translators, moderators, central-location facilities, analysts, designers and other key players on the spectrum from insights to innovation success. Sylver maintains offices in the Chicago suburb of Evanston, Illinois in the U.S. and Brasilia in Brazil. For more information about Sylver Consulting, LLC, visit www.sylverconsulting.com   Sylver Consulting, LLC is an Equal Opportunity Employer.

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Customer Service #Fail from Jawbone Shows How Quick One Can Move from a State of Brand Lover to Distruster

May 27, 2015 – by Brianna

I’m writing this post with grave disappointment in a brand that I — for the past 9 months — have not only been a lover of, but an evangelist for. Jawbone, as a company, has let me down. Not only do I feel used and abused as a customer, but also from a good business perspective none of it makes a lick of sense. And from a user experience perspective … let’s just say the company is seriously failing to see the bigger picture here. So, I thought I’d use this as a teaching opportunity for those in the fields of user experience. And, hopefully (assuming someone from Jawbone reads this) a wake up call for the company.

 

So, let me explain the situation that brought me to call Jawbone’s customer support line yesterday …

I am a user of the Up24 band. I LOVE this product; have come to depend on it for sleep tracking, food, steps, etc. I have fully embraced this new era of health trackers.

 

Over the Memorial Day weekend, my Up24 band stopped working. I went to a yoga class and it’s my belief that it stopped working due to the sweat that pooled on my wrist during the class. Whether that’s the case or circumstantial, who knows … all I do know is that an hour after class it stopped working and a soft and hard reset that evening did nothing. My thought, “No worries. It’s under warranty. I’ll call Tuesday morning to get a replacement.” This had happened once before and I had no issues receiving a replacement band within two days.

 

This is where things went bad. I called yesterday and was told that I had two options forward:

-Option 1: Wait 6 – 8 weeks for the Up24 band to come back in stock. (NOTE: The Up24 band is now a product that the company has discontinued in favor of a newer and more stable band technology).

-Option 2: Downgrade to the Up Move product and receive a $50 credit for the Jawbone website, which was intended to offset the difference in value between my Up24 and the Up Move product.

 

Neither of these scenarios are attractive to me — and frankly they shouldn’t be attractive to Jawbone either (for reasons I’ll get into in a moment). What I proposed as a desirable option for myself (and frankly a better long-term option for the brand) was the following:

-Option 3: Give me whatever the current equivalent credit is for my Up24 band and allow me to upgrade to the Up2 or Up3 (newer models now on the market) for the difference in cost. This acknowledges a loss in value in my discontinued product, and a strong desire to continue to invest in the company.

 

I was told that this was not possible; they couldn’t do that. My thoughts, “SERIOUSLY?!” I’m simply dumbfounded with the short sightedness of the Jawbone company on this one. Let’s review why …

-Option 1: Wait 6 – 8 weeks for the Up24 band to come back in stock — As previously stated, I am dependent on this health tracker. It’s like an extension of me much like a smartphone is to most these days. Without it, I feel naked and vulnerable. (I do recognize how sad this sounds!) The point is though … I’m not waiting 6 – 8 weeks for a replacement device. And by saying, “We can get back to you in 6 – 8 weeks” Jawbone is inviting in the competition with open arms (which is becoming ever more fierce in this new product category). Should the company be doing that? If I were sitting in a decision seat at Jawbone that seems like the very last thing that I’d want to invite people to do.

-Option 2: Downgrade to the Up Move product and receive a $50 credit for the Jawbone website — Quite honestly, this option feels like a big ol’ slap in the face. To me, the Up Move product is designed for a teenager wanting a piece of arm candy. It’s not for the professional consultant like myself. I’ve communicated that I do not want this product. It does not meet my lifestyle and style needs. A health tracker is only valuable if you wear it day in and day out. The look of this product is for weekend wear at best for my lifestyle. And still the company forces it on me flippantly like “Oh, something is better than nothing.” Wow — so dismissive! And then for good measure they throw in the $50 website credit, again recognizing that they are offering a lesser product in exchange for my Up24.

 

I do not want this Up Move product. I won’t use it. I will immediately resell it (new and unopened) in one of the public marketplaces upon receiving it. Frankly, I don’t think that reflects well on the Jawbone brand.

 

If I do use the $50 credit for a new band (and whatever my resale value is on the unused Up Move product), I’ll buy the Up2, not the Up3 (which I was 100% willing to spring for yesterday). So, in essence, if I decide to stay a customer with Jawbone, they’ve lost this extra revenue between Up2 and Up3 (about $79) just because of their short sightedness. Also, the Up3 introduces a whole new “hook” within the health tracking industry — heart monitoring — that I was ready to embrace yesterday (and consequently become more entrenched in the Jawbone Up suite as a result).

 

In my opinion, Option 3 would have been the better path forward: giving me whatever the current equivalent credit is for my Up24 band and allowing me to upgrade to the Up2 or Up3 (newer models now on the market) for the difference in cost. Honestly, this seems like a “no brainer solution.” I — as the customer — get the product that meets my specific lifestyle and style needs. If I choose the Up3 (as I would have yesterday), I’m more entrenched in the Jawbone Up franchise, making me more likely to buy future products of the Up suite. Also, with Option 3 I feel valued and heard as a customer. And — most attractive to Jawbone — the company makes some additional revenue off of my product warranty vs. taking a loss on the failed product.

 

I’m still shaking my head over this whole thing. Today I have a much different feeling in my heart for Jawbone than I did even two days ago. I haven’t yet decided if I will use my $50 credit for a new Up or start looking elsewhere. I’m pretty certain that I’ll no longer be the brand evangelist that I’ve been over the last few months. (I’ve convinced three other people in my life to buy Jawbone vs. other brands of health trackers in the past 9 months).

 

This whole situation has reminded me of a project that we did a year ago on customer service here at Sylver. We looked at the different aspects of a business relationship with the intent of finding the inflection points within that relationship that truly allow one to shine, stand out and differentiate themselves against the competition. It turns out that a company’s opportunity to shine is best laid before them when something goes wrong. If the company takes responsibility for mistakes made and handles the situation respectfully, responsively and graciously, they instantly become rock stars in the eyes of the client. The fact that something went wrong is soon forgotten and what remains is a bonded trust that you’ll stand behind your work product. Those that try to defer responsibility and skirt the situation, erode away the trust that might have once been there.

 

This situation yesterday with Jawbone is just another illustration for me of how quickly brand trust can fall when you fail to really listen, hear and react in a responsible way to your customers.

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Stand out with market research: how can your company use market research strategically?

April 6, 2015 – by Adriano

Stand Out with Market Research infographic

 

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Have you ever wondered where all U.S. market research investments are going and how market research can be valuable for your company? Check out this easy-to-follow infographic that shows how market research methods transform investments into high value outcomes in a three-step process:

1. Total Investments Made (2014 estimate): This section compares the total U.S. spending on market research of various industries. As you can see from the infographic, the packaged goods industry beats other industries, spending approximately 30% of total investments.

2. Research Methods Used: Once companies decide to invest in market research, they collaborate with market research firms to define a project that addresses their business goals. This section highlights the various different methods that market research firms typically use, with online research being the most widely used method. However, it is common to use multiple methods to gain a full-picture of what your company is trying to understand.

3. High Value Outcomes: Last but not least, the outcomes are what drive companies to invest in market research. The main outcome, which can be the definition of new opportunities or the optimization of a package, is usually decided much in advance and is the basis for market research projects. However, consumer insights can also be unpredictable, which is more of a reason why market research firms can help your company grow and stand out from the crowd.

This infographic provides a quick snapshot of how market research dollars can be transformed into high-value outcomes for your company, from brand positioning to innovation strategy to concept optimization. There are however many other factors that are important to understand when deciding the type and scale of market research project that is right for your company. For example, you will need to assess what specific problems you are trying to solve and what goals your company might have. Market research firms are also adopting more advanced, high-tech methods that make it easier for their clients to achieve exactly what they want in a timely fashion. Now is the perfect time to start looking into market research and figure out how you can use it strategically to set you on the right path!

 

Contributors: Jeff Oelkers, Stacy Kim and Vinicius Romualdo

 

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Which Statistical Analyses are Appropriate for your Research Question and Survey Design?

January 28, 2015 – by Kelly

sylver_descr-vs-infer_dec2014-01Quantitative (quant.) studies can be overwhelming. When there are pages and pages of numbers in front of you, it can be comforting to have some indication as to which of those numbers are the most “important.” Some people look to statistical significance as a way to find those key numbers, but in my opinion statistical significance is not always the most appropriate (or cost effective) way to look at quant. research findings. Let me explain…

When analyzing quantitative data, there are two primary methods used to examine the data: descriptive and inferential statistics. Neither one of these types of statistical analyses are better than the other, but which one is the best fit for your project depends on the problem you’re trying to solve. Additionally, your quant. research design determines whether one or both types of analyses are even possible.

The most commonly used method for analysis in market research is descriptive statistics. This type of analysis is almost always appropriate and will provide information about a group such as the average response, the frequency of responses, standard deviation, and range of responses. Examples of this type of analysis include cross-tabulation, percentage breakdown, and frequency distributions.

For many research questions, descriptive statistics are sufficient to provide you with an answer to support decision-making. For instance, if you want to know how a group of customers feel about several packaging options, you can show your customers all of the available options and ask for their feedback. Data yielded would be analyzed using descriptive statistics because there is only one group of participants being questioned. When determining opinion on a product, descriptive statistics will inform you as to how the population feels about your product, package design, or performance. For descriptive statistics to be useful, you will want to collect data from a sample, or group of participants, that is as similar as possible to your overall population of potential customers.

Inferential statistics are a better way to generalize quant. findings to a broader population, but require that your sample be randomly selected and that you have multiple groups of research participants to test. Inferential statistics are often used to measure the difference between two or more groups of participants and determine how likely that difference between these groups is due to chance.

If we take the package design example from above, and instead show individuals only one of the package designs, we will have discrete groups of individuals instead of one large group. We can then make inferences about the differences between these groups to see which package design is preferred. Inferential statistics will allow us to determine if the differences between package preference in these groups is significant or more likely to be due to chance. In order to apply this method appropriately, the sample must be randomly assigned to the groups, be representative of the overall population, and test a specific hypothesis (e.g. Package A is more likeable than Package B). The most commonly used inferential statistical tests used in market research are independent t-tests, chi-square analyses, and ANOVAs.

If you do not have multiple groups in your survey, inferential statistics would be inappropriate. You cannot compare the means to two groups with a t-test or ANOVA if you don’t have multiple groups. These tests are specifically designed to determine if one group behaves differently from another due to a specific variable.

While descriptive statistics alone will not provide you with a significance level, a significance level is not always necessary in market research. Let’s take a variation from the example used above. If 75% of your participants in Group 1 rate package A “very effective” and only 40% of participants in Group 2 rate package B “very effective”, the difference between A and B package ratings are obvious and doesn’t require a significance level test to tell you that – provided the sample is large enough and representative of the general population in question.

One of these methods for statistical analysis is not necessarily “better” than the other. The best one for your project depends entirely upon the research question(s) you’re needing to answer and your survey design.

 

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What’s Innovation Research and how is it different from Market Research?

December 1, 2014 – by Jean McDonnell

sylver_questioning_fa-i3-sm_dec02_14I recently celebrated my 6 month anniversary at Sylver Consulting . . . 6 months since I officially crossed over from the world I was professionally raised in (market research consulting) to the world I now, happily, call home (design-based innovation research). Innovation Research is not new to me. I’ve been an avid fan and occasional practitioner of its methods for more than a decade and, from the beginning, I felt a deep kinship to its particular approach to problem-solving. Indeed, that’s how I met Sylver’s founder, Brianna Sylver, years ago and how (she and partner Adriano Galvao tell me) I came to mind when the position of Innovation Research Director at Sylver opened up. But having an outside-in, peripheral appreciation of something is different than being immersed in it and being able to claim it as my own. Now I believe I can.

These last few months the “light bulbs” have been going off and I now have a richer, deeper, more visceral-level appreciation for this unique “brand” of research – at least the way that it is practiced here at Sylver Consulting. Recently a new client of Sylver’s articulated a question that I have grappled with myself for many years in reaction to the proliferation and blurring of the lines between many research disciplines, specialties and practices. Her question was (in so many words) “what the heck is innovation research and how is it different from market research”?  

Here at Sylver, we candidly acknowledge that “innovation” is an oft-overused word – thus, depending on how it’s used, it can stand for everything and nothing at all. But we use it because it represents a territorial space and set of practices that both overlaps with market research and distinguishes itself from it in some important ways. Coming from a more-or-less “traditional” market research background, I needed to experience these similarities and differences first-hand in order to truly understand and appreciate the distinctions.

The next time a client asks me this question, here’s my 4-point reply:

As innovation researchers . . .

We focus on the issues of “where to play” and “what to build”. Innovation research, of the kind practiced here at Sylver, is rooted in human-centered user experience and design strategy methods and training. These disciplines evolved from the need to create effective solutions to emerging human-centered (vs. business-centered) needs using adaptive technology. Before Innovation Research came along, Market Research “owned” the new product development process. Historically the job of market research was to utilize its understanding of consumers and its expertise in querying them to assess the value proposition of a new product idea and/or to provide direction for its development. This “classic” approach to new product development research worked for a good many years.       But as the need for bigger competitive breakthroughs arose and the success rate of new product introductions declined, it became apparent that a new way of identifying opportunity was needed. Enter “innovation research specialists” – researchers whose training includes a mix of business strategy, design-thinking, social theory and creative problem solving. As it happens, this unique kind of training and skill set (one which emphasizes rigor, creativity and analytic outcome) is what’s needed to tackle “fuzzy front end” problems. Not only do you get a good sense for where there is opportunity to play with innovation research, but you also get design/success criteria that help you identify how best to go after that opportunity.

We “design” research with the end (and the end user) in mind. A key criticism of traditional market research is the idea that it doesn’t go far enough beyond the “what” of the data into providing the “so what” and “now what” action steps that are needed. The market research industry is well aware of this and has gone to great lengths to provide added value to its clients, whether internal or external, via an increasingly greater emphasis on “insights” versus data. I believe the industry as a whole has made good progress in this direction. But what I’ve come to experience first-hand is that, for research to be truly actionable, it’s not enough to dig deep in to the results and “pull out” rich insights that might (or might not) be there. The research itself needs to be designed with the end in sight – meaning there needs to be a plan in place for how the data will ladder up to actionable outcomes. This requires a unique way of planning and designing the research (and particularly the analytic process) in such a way that it is guaranteed to deliver against these criteria in a clear, articulate, and unambiguous manner. This is a skill set that design-trained professionals bring to the table.

We are first and foremost researchers (not designers or marketers or product developers). This means that our attention is on the rigor that we bring to the research process as the means to inform the larger strategic questions being asked. In doing so, it’s important to be method-agnostic, allowing the objectives of the investigation to drive the approach vs. having a favorite method or tool that we advocate using for every project. Unlike market research which (in my experience) tends to be siloed into either quant or qual specializations or “design research” which is often based solely, if not primarily, in ethnographic research methods, true innovation research needs to be capable of employing a wide variety of qualitative and quantitative methods according to the needs of the project.

We are active users of collaboration, iteration and ideation practices. Like the word “innovation” itself, lots of lip service gets paid to these process-oriented activities but, in my experience, they rarely get used to full advantage in classic market research projects. Why? I think it’s a chicken and egg kind of situation. Historically these activities have been “hit or miss”, delivering an inconsistent experience and value that’s hard to see or measure in the final product or deliverable. As a result, clients tend to push back against them, providers are reluctant to insist on them, and both groups are willing to consider them expendable when time is tight – and when isn’t it? What diminishes in their absence, of course, is a level of buy-in, creativity and quality of synthesis that only well-designed group participatory activities like these can provide. Here at Sylver, these practices are designed for efficiency, productivity and are non-negotiable. They are understood to be so essential that they are built into every key step (planning, execution, analysis) of every research project.

Can traditional market research practitioners/companies play in the “innovation” space and do these things? Certainly there are many who do and some who do it well – but probably more who only think they do. As a strategic, forward-thinking qual expert, I thought I had everything it took to be a truly “innovative” researcher. But I’m glad to be immersed in a world where I’m challenged to new ways of thinking, exposed to new ideas, practices and tools for doing good research, and given the opportunity to help solve some very cool and interesting new problems.

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I Touch Screens, not Restroom Doors; design research and the restroom door

September 30, 2014 – by Matthew

Research at Sylver is most challenging (and yields the greatest reward) for me when it involves familiar, everyday products and services that compose our day-to-day living. (Mobile devices, air freshener, sunflower seeds, etc.)

These seemingly mundane objects and experiences contain depth and richness in their stories not always immediate with use. Exploring challenges related to these objects allows us to render the invisible visible, revealing meaning to the client and ourselves. This post explores the continually evolving public restroom, a favorite subject of mine.

Often messy, impersonal, and full of odors none of us enjoy (among other unpleasant characteristics); public restrooms perform an important role in many of our everyday routines. Each restroom is a unique system composed of hardware, interface design, layout, location, technology, space, people (!), and institutional policies. At the crux of each space (and my interest) are touchless technologies and entry/exit door(s). The latter being my nemesis.

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A brief Twitter exchange between the author and Bradley Corporation

Public restrooms are shared communal spaces that usually begin the day clean and orderly then decline quickly into an unwelcoming state most of us limit our exposure to. Restrooms may be touched-up throughout the day, but rarely return to their morning lemon-scented purity. Maintaining a clean environment can be accomplished through an unspoken and informal alliance between the restroom’s custodial staff and its patrons. A simple idea, but patrons have different — and often conflicting — standards of cleanliness. Rubbish is disposed of on the floor; toilets are not flushed; seats are sprinkled on; and hands are not washed. Luckily, many of these inconveniences can be minimized through the use of touchless devices (flush, sink, soap, dry).

As sensor-based technologies become fully integrated into the everyday public restroom experience, opportunities for our hands to have contact with contaminated surfaces are reduced, enabling a more hygienic experience for patrons. Almost.

Emerging touchless technologies help improve hygiene, but fail at the door

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Bradley information sheet

 William Winsor Elementary School (Greenville, Rhode Island) was the site of my earliest experience using touchless restroom technologies. Well, almost touchless. Outside of the first floor’s main restrooms sat a half-moon basin (possibly a Bradley sink) that was controlled by a single foot pedal running along the contour of the hardware’s base. A manual soap container (dispensing damp crumbly pink stuff) and a hand-crank paper towel dispenser were located on either side of the basin, which was shared between boys and girls. Puddles were unavoidable and excessive use of paper towels was the norm. Bathroom breaks were group activities that concluded with students clustered around the sink while multiple kids attempted to control the water flow (frequently leading to mischief and puddles).

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Detail of a public notice posted within an Illinois Tollway Oasis restroom. (Photo Credit: Brianna Sylver @BriannaSylver)

Technologies present in today’s public restrooms have developed beyond Harry Bradley’s original pedal-triggered “Lavatory” washroom sink and my early 1980s K-6 facility. Whether you’re using a restroom at your place of work, a gas station along the way or at restaurant with friends, it’s not uncommon to find a suite of sensor-based touchless devices managing some or all of a facility’s material assets. Smart implementation of these tools can help conserve resources (electricity, paper, water, soap), reduce manual labor, minimize negative impact on the environment, eliminate specific types of vandalism, save money, and—often as a byproduct of the previous incentives—provide a more hygienic experience for patrons.

As emerging technologies continue to evolve restroom experiences (see Dyson’s faucet/dryer and Bradley’s Advocate system) and facilities shift from mixed touch-and-touchless systems to 100% touchless devices, a single obstacle remains in the way of the patron participating in a completely touchless experience — the exit door. Restrooms often require the patron to open a door manually to exit. This function immediately negates any actual or perceived health benefits achieved from an otherwise touchless experience.

The American Restroom Association states, “Restroom doors should be designed so that after one has washed their hands, exit is possible without touching a surface.” Door-free restrooms are commonly found in airports, malls, stadiums and similar-sized venues that need to manage large volumes of people. For smaller, more intimate spaces, door-free restrooms can be costly to install, cause unwanted noise pollution, and breach privacy.

Installing inward opening manual doors is a rational decision from a business’ point of view. Doors opening into hallway traffic have the potential to cause more accidents than doors that open into a restroom. For the patron, this can be a pain point. Touching a door handle following somebody who shared the restroom and did not wash his or her hands or not knowing if the previous occupants washed their hands can be frustrating. This is especially true at restaurants!

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 SanitGrasp

 

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IKEA restroom sign “Caution: Open Door Slowly”

Solutions designed to remedy forced contact with door handles range from ad-hoc workarounds to fully engineered systems. A common practice by some people — myself included — is to exit a restroom by opening the door with paper towels (when available) and dispose the crumpled sheets in a nearby trash receptacle or the floor. My jump shot is awful; a trashcan located more than a yard away from the door usually results in my crumpled paper towel on the floor.

Innovations to handle design and/or door swing strive to improve the hygiene experience of the public restroom

SanitGrasp is a door handle resembling an oversized coat hook. Patrons use their forearm and the SanitGrasp handle together to swing the door inward. Foot Pull is a similar concept for a different appendage. Both devices address the concerns of a facility — reduce the possibility of litter and the labor required to clean it up for patrons — and those of a patron – reduced contact with a contaminated surface. But both solutions are a bit wonky.

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Sign above IKEA automatic hand dryer

Some of IKEA’s restroom entrance/exit doors are bidirectional and leverage its customers’ common sense more than engineering to prevent accidents. A placard posted on the inside of a Chicago-area IKEA restroom door asks patrons to use caution and “open door slowly.” A reasonable request— assuming patrons read the card—but “caution” and “slowly” illicit subjective interpretations.

Hygiene as an Institutional Priority!

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Hand sanitization unit outside of a Mariano’s restroom

Placing hand sanitizer stations outside of public restrooms seems to be an emerging trend lead by some airports, office buildings, grocery markets, restaurants, and similar establishments managing large volumes of traffic. This solution is a positive addition to public spaces because it is available for anybody to use (not just restroom patrons), neutralizes the negative effects of forced contact with dirty door handles, and requires a single unit to service multiple restrooms.

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Collection of Chicago public restrooms

Public restrooms and the experiences they enable — while imperfect — are continually evolving. As you can tell from my post, I am quite enthralled with not only the history of the public restroom, but look forward to its future — and specifically how this pain point of the exit door gets resolved to sufficiently support the needs and requirements of patrons and host facility.

I know it sounds silly — and maybe even a little bit gross — but a project on public restrooms might actually be a dream project for me!

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