Man filming mother, child at home

The first 1000 days: design documentaries look through mothers’ eyes

How do mothers monitor the development of their child during its first one thousand days? To answer this broad research question for a multinational FMCG company, STBY carried out research that included interviews and design documentaries made with mothers in Sydney, Hong Kong and Shanghai. In collaboration with MELD studios in Sydney and Apogee in Hong Kong, we studied four mothers in each location, with children of varying ages, including expectant mothers. The goal was to help our client’s marketers step into the shoes of those mothers, to see the children and the world as they do as a crucial step towards creating meaningful ideas for new services.

Practices and motives

We first spent time with the mothers at home, to understand the setting and get a general picture of the way they monitor their child’s development. With each, we then selected three stories to make a documentary about, for example, dealing with a rash that suddenly appeared, figuring out how to make kids eat healthy food, or the child’s first steps in learning the language. By re-enacting the story, a wealth of detail was obtained. Each film ended with a small reflection on the motivations for the mothers’ actions, expressed by herself. We focused on practices and motives, instead of opinions. Opinions can change quickly, but not what people do, and their reasons for doing it: this is solid ground to build insights and ideas on.

Empathy and action

The films were viewed in a 3-day workshop we held in Hong Kong with the company’s global innovation team and country teams from the three locations. Viewing and discussing the films helped participants find out what is really important to the mothers, what they do and why, and what kind of needs and difficulties they have. In a word, they could develop real empathy and start taking action based on this perspective. Working with design documentaries for the first time, the marketers noted that the interviews and films were very different from the kind of quantitative and qualitative information market research usually provides. For the first time, they felt they could really step into the shoes of the mothers and start to think and feel like they do.

Making concepts and making a case

The workshop resulted in a number of new concepts created through combining the newly acquired understanding of the mothers needs with their deep understanding of what services their company could in principle offer. The films were then re-edited into new compilations, with texts added, to express the concepts clearly, and to ground them so that new viewers would understand their potential value not only from the perspective of their company but also from the perspective of the mothers. In this way, the films provided not only materials to create concepts, but also helped make a case for them inside the company. Ideas are important, but it is equally important to be able to make a case for them so they can be taken forward with confidence.