The Power of Thinking Frameworks

What do you do when you really need to understand something? You need to think. Off the cuff, off the top of your head gut instinct is not going to work if you have a complex problem to solve. One great way to do that is to take the thinking frameworks created by people (like us) who have solved similar problems before.  The framework summarises a wealth of experience into a system of thinking that can be easily followed. This is not short-cut thinking; it is it taking advantage of the thinking that others have done.

In brief

  • Frameworks helps us make sense of the complex issues we are often asked to research.
  • Communicating the framework helps us share our ideas and methods with our clients.

Here are two frameworks that we use:

  1. Sense-making for customer experiences
  2. A reading experience framework.

Thinking framework #1 Customer experience research based on sense-making

If something happens to you, do you talk to yourself about it? We all have a drive to make things make sense. One way people make sense of their experiences is by talking to themselves about what just happened. So talking to yourself is not a sign of madness, it is how you make sense of things. One good example of this is how people make sense of their customer service experiences.

This is our sense-making framework for customer experience and customer journey research. It takes into account what was going on in customers’ heads before the experience, the sensory stimuli they actually paid attention to, their expectations about what was supposed to be happening, and what they said to themselves and others about it. 


If we did not use a framework like this we would have to - and many researchers do this - just jump in 'see what we could see'.  This is an inefficient and unreliable approach to research.

By the way, these ideas about the stimuli that we pay attention to and how people respond to them are at the core of Information Design.

Thinking frameworks #2 Understanding customers’ reading experiences

We test quite a lot of written material for our clients. They ask us to help them make their brochures, mailers, website content, and regulatory documents clearer and more engaging. Researching customers’ reading experiences helps organisations understand their customers and therefore how to engage with them and communicate with them in a meaningful way.

We asked ourselves: what is ‘best practice’ for researching into reading experiences? What should be included in a framework and what doesn’t belong? We could find no answer to our questions online, so made our own!

Can you spot the similarity with the sense-making model? One of the key factors in both of them is our ‘sense of self’ and how that motivates future behaviour. Here we have ‘how did the reading experience make you feel as a person?’ Did you feel intelligent and on top of things, or did it make you feel stupid?  It is often this ‘self-talk’ that is key to motivation.  When we start the research with a framework, we know to include potentially insightful but easily forgotten perspectives like this.

Qualitative research to develop your own frameworks

One of the best uses for qualitative research is to develop your own frameworks or models about consumer behaviour before measurement or before a BI 'intervention'. This will save you a lot of money!  This is one we developed some years ago to show how engagement with communications material is a 'journey'.



To sum up, we advocate the use of ‘thinking frameworks’ in research to help make sense of complex problems. In many cases, those frameworks exist, but there are instances where you need to create your own. The benefit for the researcher is in being prepared and ready. It is like diving in the deep end knowing how to swim, not just jumping in and hoping for the best. Clients benefit from this transparency. They know exactly what the researcher is doing and why and can contribute to the process so they understand it better.

Tags: sense-making, Thinking frameworks

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