What is the difference between Research and Insight?

By Peter Ballard @Ballyfool

‘Insight’ and ‘Research’ are terms that I often hear used interchangeably but, in truth, there is a world of difference between them.

The Collins Dictionary defines insight as “a penetrating and often sudden understanding of a complex situation or problem” (see inset) while research is defined as a “systematic investigation to establish facts or principles or to collect information on a subject”.

Put another way, research can tell us what is happening, but we need insight to understand why it is happening, and crucially, what to do about it. Whilst research is an important part of our UX tool kit, we need insight to create solutions to the problems we discover.

To create insight we draw on analysis skills, previous experience, subject matter expertise and an understanding of human behaviour and psychology. At Foolproof we spend a lot of time developing the skills required to go beyond research findings, to find the themes, or the moments of truth in a process, that yield the valuable insights needed to effect real change for our clients.

A great illustration of the difference between research and insight came in a project we did for BT on the BT Homehub. The original brief was to ensure that the instructions they had designed to help people connect and set up their homehub for the first time were being followed without difficulty.

We decided to observe some customers opening the box that they were sent with the homehub, and watch them start the process of setting it up in their own homes, to understand the natural experience customers would go through.

The research highlighted a number of areas where the instructions were unclear and confusing, and also where they functioned well. However, the insight we gained from observing this process, was that a large proportion of people never looked at the instructions and, on opening the box, launched straight into trying to set it up. This was basic human nature at play, the instinct to just “give it a go” (OK, some might say this is basic “male” instinct, but let’s not go there!)

Our recommendation was to not fight this, and go with it, so we helped BT redesign the whole out-of the-box experience for the home hub, including changes to the actual product, to make attempts at “going for it” more successful. This included colour matching plugs and sockets to make it more intuitive which plug went where, and creating a “Quick set up” guide, with at-a-glance diagrams, and a reference sheet for when/if things went wrong.

This was a great example of where Insight led us to the heart of the issue, and from there the process of problem solving could begin. It’s really important that we don’t just stop at research finding.

As my colleague Christian Barnett says: “Research is just sight but to act we need Insight.”

Peter Ballard

I co-founded Foolproof with Tom Wood back in 2002. Today I work across a range of clients, particularly in the roles of Experience Planner and Client Partner. In my role as Experience Planner, I ensure that our design teams have access to the right insight to respond appropriately to the business and creative challenges faced by our clients.

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