Weekly Editorial

Connecting with Designers: ThinkLab's Approach to Industry Research

Written By Rob Kirkbride, Editor-in-chief, OI Publications • October 23, 2023

The Insider_Weekly_Editorial Section_10.23.23

In The Insider this month, we’ve focused on a few good industry sources for research. I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the work being done by ThinkLab, led by Amanda Schneider and her team. If SolomonCoyle is the go-to research firm for dealers and BIFMA the representative of manufacturers, ThinkLab is the gold seal choice for research in the design industry.

I’ve known and respected Schneider for many, many years, long before she sold her research and consulting firm to SANDOW. She is one of those industry colleagues that I consider one of my “virtual water cooler” buddies since we’ve both worked remotely for many years and I know I can reach out to her and chat casually about goings on in our industry.

Schneider and her team have built a critically important business that helps many companies understand how to connect to and understand interior designers. ThinkLab uses a hands-on approach by gathering designers together and really getting at what makes them tick. I’ve seen ThinkLab’s process in action and it is amazing how they are able to engage with designers and get them talking about deep industry issues. And as far as I can tell, they are the only market research firm wholly focused on the design ecosystem.

Originally founded by Schneider in 2011 as an independent consultancy, Contract Consulting Group (CCG) grew rapidly through word of mouth referrals and was aided by her role as a blogger for the Huffington Post. Customers found that CCG could help their businesses through a deeper understanding of the design industry. In November 2018, CCG was acquired by SANDOW and rebranded as ThinkLab.

The ThinkLab team has done critically important research on topics like generational issues in the workplace and hybrid work. They create the Hot Market Growth report and U.S. Design Industry Benchmark Report. Schneider also hosts one of the industry-best podcasts, “Design Nerds Anonymous” and often writes about ThinkLab’s research.

Designers tend to be independent thinkers, which can be a tough group to crack when it comes to research. It helps that ThinkLab’s staff is filled with designers who understand the nuances of the industry. They know the right questions to ask and have a way of connecting personally to the designers that they engage with.

Research is important, not only for the moment, but to establish long-term understanding of an industry. Good research goes deep into a topic and not for short-term benefits. Good research lasts for years or decades and if it is done correctly, helps everyone in an industry.

The idea of iteration is key to successful research. Research on one topic often leads to knowledge on other topics as well. One discovery leads to dozens of other questions on the topic. These questions usually lead to new ideas, revisions, and improvements.

All these, in turn, are very helpful in the research process, making data more effective and useful.

So if you are looking for independent design research, ThinkLab is a good place to start.

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