Firstly, good designers don’t tend to think about consumers; they think about people and what they want and need. It’s a subtle point, but thinking about people as consumers immediately dehumanizes them and makes it harder to empathize.
Secondly, good designers like observing — really looking at what people do rather than simply relying on what they say they do. As Paul Smith once explained, when asked where he got his ideas from: “You and I could walk down the street together and look at the same things, but I’d SEE ten times more than you would.”
Thirdly, they bring expertise in other categories and industries to bear on problems in others. They pull together threads from different functions, disciplines, fields, and sectors, and integrate them into a new and (the dreaded word) “holistic” understanding.
Fourthly, good designers look at what might all change in the short, medium and long-term, by engaging with the best trends and forecasting intelligence. Unlike other crystal ball gazers they use this prescience to help them understand how they could bend the future, shape it to their vision.
And lastly, good designers pressure test their conclusions by consulting with other cultural ‘interpreters’ from a broad range of other disciplines.