Photo & Video Studies in Design Thinking: Purpose & Examples

Instructor: Beth Hendricks

Beth holds a master's degree in integrated marketing communications, and has worked in journalism and marketing throughout her career.

Photo and videos tell a thousand words – a useful tactic in design thinking. In this lesson, you'll learn more about the use of photo and video studies in the Empathize stage of the design thinking process.

Remember Through Images

You have tickets to the biggest concert event of the year this weekend. As the day of the concert approaches, you put together a checklist of things to remember. Great outfit? Check. Ride? Check. Camera? Check.

Cameras and concerts seem to go hand in hand. Why? Because concert-goers want to be able to remember and relive the best moments and experiences from the show. It's the same when people are traveling on vacation, attending the big game or celebrating one of life's big moments. There's almost always a camera around, capturing the experience, so it can be relived over and over.

Using photos and videos can also come in handy when you're studying people's interactions, thoughts and feelings. Take design thinking, for example. In its first stage, Empathize, the design team is trying to get to know the user, his or her likes or dislikes, their challenges and needs. They might do this through interviews, surveys or other ways of engaging consumers, but like someone once said, ''A picture tells a thousand words.'' Capturing your audience through photo or video may help you uncover subconscious feelings, for example, or observe a user in a natural environment that won't yield the same result in a conference room or test lab.

Gathering data from photos and videos can help a design team not only learn more about who their end user is, but help them as they innovate solutions and ideas to satisfy customer needs.

Let's talk a little more about how photo and video studies are used in design thinking.


''Smile!'' That's often the first thing someone says as they're snapping your picture. But, in design thinking, photo studies aim to capture more than just a facial expression. A photo study is used in the Empathize stage of design thinking to help the design team gain empathy toward its customers and identify customer needs. It may occur in a natural setting, such as a customer's home, or in a test session conducted in the design team's preferred location.

Photo studies can capture consumers in the act.
photo, study, design, thinking

For example, the design team itself may opt to take pictures of consumers handling different types of product packaging. By taking photos, the design team can refer to them later and capture users as they, perhaps, struggle to get the package open or make an unusual facial expression when they first observe the new packaging style. A photo study can capture actions or feelings days or weeks later that can be shared with the rest of the design team or help strengthen the design process.

In another instance, the design team could provide a camera to a consumer and ask them to take pictures in their natural setting, perhaps using a prompt to generate the types of photos they want to receive. For example, a consumer might be asked to photograph all of the steps of their dinner-making process since the design team is working on creating solutions to making dinner preparation faster. This type of setting is more ideal since it captures the consumer as they go about their regular routine. Later, the design team may opt to bring out the photos and talk to the consumer about them. Again, this provides more opportunity for insight into the consumer's thoughts and actions.

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