Case Study: Brew your own insights

How I coached a home brew company to apply a user-centred product development approach…

…by doing it with, not for them, In NZ and Portland, Oregon.

By coaching the imake team through a customer experience research project, I equipped them with the skills and techniques to run their own insights work, which fuels their product development process today.

Better by design coaching progress graph

As the imake team grew in confidence and ability, I transitioned from expert, to team member, to occasional advisor.

Who are imake?

Imake is an innovative exporter of ‘make your own’ food and beverage products. Their brands cover Spirits, Beer, Cider, Wine, Sausages, Yoghurt & Cheese.

A crafty opportunity

A booming craft beer market and the growing ‘maker movement’ presented a raft of brand, market and product opportunities for imake.


Who were this new breed of brewer?

What motivated them?

How did they use their homebrew setups?

…and what did ‘craft’ mean to them anyway?

Customer and retailer visits

I took imake staff into the homes of brewers and distillers in the local market – Firstly to learn about their attitudes and behaviours, but also to coach the imake team on how to plan and conduct interviews.

With new skills on-board, we took this approach into the world of the retailer for their perspective on home brewers and the world they inhabit.

Insights emerge from chaos

I guided the team through a storm of observations and excerpts from conversations in the field, emerging with a set of key insights about their customers, and what made them tick. I helped them become comfortable with an organic, and sometimes chaotic process they were to repeat themselves again and again in the future.

Portland study tour

Insights often come from the edges, rather than the middle.

With a ‘learning by doing’ approach, we headed to Portland, Oregon, the bleeding edge of home brewing, to learn from a more mature market context. We visited brewers in their homes and basements, exploring with them their kit and approach, while gaining valuable feedback on some prototype concepts.

Coach – as part of the team

Another mountain of data to make sense of, but this time I was less of a coach and more part of the team. Together we synthesised our findings, emerging with a strong understanding of these customers, building on a rich set of stories captured first-hand by the team.

Socialising insights

By this time the team were so infused with insights, they were itching to share them with a broader team back in New Zealand.

We planned and ran an an immersive share-back workshop complete with video documentaries edited from our interviews, to help bring these customers, and their worlds deeper into the business.

The entire team then worked together to identify key insights plus market, brand and product opportunities for the future.

Insight brews innovation

Imake’s internal capability and customer insights programme puts them in a great position to innovate new products before their competitors. Imake’s latest innovation is ‘The Grainfather’ an all-grain, all-in-one brewing system, designed specifically for the customers they had learned so much from.

Job done…

Having experienced the value of taking a user centred approach, Imake built a strong culture of including customers in their design process and invested further in building these skills into their team.

I worked with imake as part of the Better by Design programme, where the role of a coach is to build capability in the client team, so they become self sufficient in using design methods, and the coach becomes redundant by design.

All that reading, you deserve a beer…

Or you could take a look at some other recent projects, in Logistics, Healthcare, Banking or Tourism (well, motorhomes actually).