Why Generating Insights is an Important Skill

“Undertake a focused discipline of curiosity.”
—Jane Fulton Suri, IDEO Partner Emeritus & Executive Design Director

Connecting insights to innovations

Insights for Innovation instructors Coe Leta Stafford and Jane Fulton Suri have over 40 years of combined experience helping companies surface human-centered insights at the heart of IDEO’s design research practice. We asked them to share their perspectives on why insights matter.

Insights Connect the Head and the Heart

Coe Leta Stafford
IDEO Global Design Director


Many businesses are in touch with their customers from an information perspective, but not necessarily an insights perspective. The purpose of insights is to connect head and heart knowledge—information plus inspiration. Too often, information just describes phenomena with no clear path of what to do with it. But the best insights reveal behaviors or phenomena and point to solutions or ideas. And because insights are grounded in human needs and desires, they lead to ideas that create value in people’s lives.

One example of this comes from an online global retail company. The company had great information about their customers’ behavior; they knew that thousands of people were churning from their site every day. But they didn’t have insight into why this was happening. Eventually, they came to learn that their customers were no longer buying because they were no longer inspired. The company thought the customers were gone, but in reality, they were there, just not transacting—“I’m not gone, I’m just not turned on.”

Insights move you from knowing something to wanting to do something and create inertia for all functions of the business to want to take action—from designers and engineers to marketers and strategists.

Insights Can Be a Collaborative Pursuit of Understanding


   Jane Fulton Suri
   IDEO Partner Emeritus & Executive Design Director


If you, on your own or with a team, want to make a positive difference in the world—through products, services, environments, organizations, systems, experiences—you’ll always start with some kind of understanding about the current state of affairs and ways you might change, tweak, or re-invent it.

The quality of that understanding is foundational to your effectiveness in making positive change. And when that understanding is superficial, flawed, based on limited experience, mundane, or not shared by others, it will undermine your good intentions. In contrast, insightful understanding is a powerful leaping-off point for great design.

So, how do you become more insightful?

Undertake a focused discipline of curiosity. Let go of assumptions and deliberately observe. Use your senses to intimately explore context, culture, meanings, and behaviors to enrich your understanding. Allow yourself and your team to be puzzled and surprised by things you took for granted.

This is a practice of increasing awareness and sharpening your perspective. And, while it's crucial in framing and starting out a project in a good direction, it's not just for the start—keep exploring through your design process, learn continually about the impact you and your work are having. Small design changes you make will provide opportunity to observe more and deepen your insight (this is also why prototyping is so important).

Exploration for insight can be an individual pursuit, but is usually more useful in collaboration with others. What seems obvious to you may feel like an amazing insight and fresh thinking for someone else, and vice versa. Design insight is a social affair because you’ll want to reach a shared perspective about what matters currently and what will matter for people in places and with things in the future. And that process of sharing and discovering new things together is refreshing, motivational, and a great boost to team energy and effectiveness.

Learn IDEO's methods to generating powerful insights in our upcoming Insights for Innovation course.

Starting Soon

Business Innovation - IDEO U Certificate
Human-Centered Strategy Certificate