Passion for Packaging Innovation

Consumer centric innovation – Part IV – sandboxes

Grouping consumer insights into actionable sandboxes

Once the ethnographic research concludes, the team brings back a host of insights. Then, in a cross-functional set-up, the team members can sit around the table, and decide which of the hundreds of consumer insights complement each other, and which are not pertinent.

For example, years ago when we were doing ethnographic research for refrigerator innovation, we discovered that the consumer we were working with was storing chicken bones in his freezer after he consumed the chicken, until the garbage pick-up day, which occurred once a week. He did not want his garage to smell bad.

While this observation is rather unusual and unique, it needs to pass a test on whether or not it is useful for further exploration. In our case, it was discarded as we could not find a broad consumer need to build innovation on. As we said in our prior article, adaptive consumer behavior is typically rather insightful and useful. But not always.

The Purpose: Forming Boundaries

Unbounded brainstorming is typically not very productive. So the purpose of sandboxing is to provide a boundary for the cross-functional team to innovate in. Brainstorming will be the next stage in the EthnoSync innovation process.

Recognizing Useful Insights

A useful observation may be an indirect observation like how consumers store packages before and during use. They are not always the same. Consumers may, for example, store unopened packages on their sides before but not after opening, for fear of leakage. Consumers are adapting to product shortcomings, and that is a useful insight.


There are two things to watch here:

  • Team members are also consumers. However, they are too involved to participate as unbiased consumers. So, one of the ground rules needs to be that the consumer insights, not team members’ opinions (as proxies for the consumer) are determining factors for developing sandboxes.
  • The second area to watch is not to have to many sandboxes. We usually work on 5-10 sandboxes per project. Having more waters down the potential for breakthrough ideas in each of the areas.

Team Structure

It goes without saying that the team needs to be cross-functional. There need to be innovation professionals on the team such as consumer researchers, designers and usability specialists, as well as individuals from finance, manufacturing, engineering, etc. The innovation professionals typically take the center stage at this part of the process, with a progressively increasing role for the other cross-functional members. Their roles become especially prevalent in the 4th quadrant, which we will review as Part VI in the series.

The importance of innovation professionals is not a small one. A good way to highlight it is to quote the movie Ratatouille; “a great cook can come from anyone, but not everyone is a great cook.” Great innovators can come from anywhere, but not everyone is a great innovator.

Team chemistry is an important factor as well, where great innovators are complemented by people who understand the existing boundaries well.

The Sandboxing Exercise

We will not go into more detailed specifics of how to go through this exercise. Please let us know if you need help in this area.

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