A sparkling idea

A sparkling idea

Tin Horse discuss their Diamond Mining technique and the tools they use to create innovative packaging designs…


For the past 24 years Tin Horse, an insight, innovation and structural packaging design consultancy, have worked on a fantastically diverse array of global FMCG projects from Ariel to Axe, Andrex to Ann Summers. Over the years they have developed their own unique design thinking tools that help to generate long-lasting design and innovation thinking. 


Pete Booth, Principal Consultant at Tin Horse, says, “Many of the clients we work with are the big battleships of the FMCG world, and many struggle to suddenly change course. They want to maintain control, deliver a proven process via a systemised approach, generating something scaleable and repeatable. However, if they want something new and groundbreaking this might not be the way to go about it. To quote Banarama ‘It ain’t what you do, it’s the way that you do it’, and that’s what gets results.”


So what’s the way Tin Horse do it? Pete explains, “Our current driving mantras in the business are all about 3 things…getting stuff done, delivering effectiveness and being agile. The tools we use offer us a variety of ways to be quick and flexible, to get the stuff done, yet also deliver real tangible business results. The fundamental principal is that we work with Real people, in Real situations, using Real things.”


Pete goes on to clarify what it means to be agile in their approach. “We like to be as agile in our projects as possible, For example, once we have clarified an idea, it can go through multiple and rapid iterations, getting better every single time,” says Pete. “Rather than slogging away to get it 100% right from the start we can often do better by seeing what’s wrong, very quickly; we learn and adapt depending on what’s uncovered. We have to approach things from a different angle, it’s no good if we keep turning the same stones over, we are only going to keep uncovering the same worms!” 


So being agile is key for effective design, but are there some techniques Tin Horse can share, that help in this new way of thinking? Martin Bunce co-founder and principal consultant of Tin Horse describes a Tin Horse approach to design thinking known as Diamond Mining


 From L-R: Peter Booth, Martin Bunce, John Lamb



“Our Diamond Mining approach is a 5 step framework we adopt which creates a robust basis for design development. Within each step we have a number of tools that help us to build a rich territory to work from,” describes Martin. 


Martin explains, “These 5 steps provide a framework to innovation projects. However, in our experience, innovation projects tend to focus on the solution too early, they don’t focus on the problem and understanding the ‘why’. Innovation is all about opening up the brief to become a rich territory to explore later on. If you focus on what you presuppose the solution is, you won’t uncover anything new. We ask our clients to tell us ‘what’ they want to achieve, not how to do it. By understanding ‘why’ it’s important to them, we can uncover a wealth of opportunity areas. We think the first two stages of diamond mining ‘locate’ and ‘dig’ are absolutely critical to successful innovation, yet are often overlooked by project teams.”


Locate is all about getting a clear definition of the problem at hand. Martin adds, “Successful completion of any project relies upon a great start. We utilise a set of problem framing tools that integrate multi-disciplinary teams. This generates robust briefs and ensures projects achieve multi-winning success. In the ‘Locate’ stage, we capture the aspiration of the brief from the very outset. We find many briefs are already written as solutions masquerading as problems. With diamond mining we look deep, uncover the real issues and define a rich problem area; the solution is what we then go away and look for!”



One tool Tin Horse adopt is called ‘problematising’. Pete explains that, “At the initial stages of any project we may host a ‘problematising’ meeting, it gets the whole team on board and always helps uncover issues at an early stage, which may otherwise have been left uncovered. The objective is to be as honest as possible. Gain understanding and identify potential ‘show stopper’ issues as early as possible. Then discuss how we can work with them and plan the project to respond accordingly.”


So how about the ‘dig’ stage? “Great innovation is about successful exploitation of ideas for all stakeholders; to be successful it needs to work for everyone. So we focus on a robust discovery across all facets of the business, from the consumer, shopper, retailer, to the environment, the factory and finance etc.” says Pete.


Just looking at consumer behavior is not enough. Tin Horse argues rich insights may come from many sources, it could be a motivating consumer behavior change, but equally it could be a factory constraint or a retailer’s demands.  So how do Tin Horse ‘dig’ for these insights that can deliver multi-winning innovation and design? Martin continues,”We use a variety of techniques that go beyond the traditional passive/ observational tools. A focus group in a windowless, corporate office won’t uncover any fundamental truths about your brands or your consumers. In this scenario we often see that what people say they do and what they actually do are two very different things. We need to understand why they do it and what they may do in the future. So we go out and we talk to ‘Real People, in Real Situations, using Real Things’. This is the mantra of our business!”


So how do Tin Horse keep it real? John Lamb, co-founder and principal consultant at Tin Horse explains, “The best way to generate consumer insights is not always to talk to consumers. Most projects we work on in FMCG, deal with everyday objects where behaviors and attitudes are normalised, mundane and unconscious. There are many techniques, but the basic principle we rely on is observing people using products in home, in store, on the go; right from the off. 



“Many of the activities that consumers carry out on a day-to-day basis are low interest and often unconscious. To explore these issues we may study their home environment before talking to them. We use a simple technique to look with fresh eyes so that what is usual to them is extra-ordinary to us. We call it archaeology, where we make discoveries from what we expose. So we will rummage in peoples cupboards, we will have a nose through their fridge. If we are working on say a beauty project, we will go in your bathroom as you put your make up on, or we will accompany you to your beauty treatment at the salon. An archaeology study is incredibly powerful, you see what really happens and can expose compensating strategies that often lead to innovation opportunities.”


Another principle to share from the ‘dig’ stage is known at Tin Horse as ‘build to learn’. Martin reveals, “We discover what consumers really do with our ideas because we ‘make’ as we go-learning experientially, generating innovation and rational creativity that intuitively works. Our business is about making creative thinking real and our Marlborough based design studio has an integrated workshop, fully equipped with CNC to enable us to create a range of models and prototypes from sketch development foams and test rigs, to photo realistic simulations and working models. We work in 3D from the outset, (often with really low resolution models), because we believe you have to experience ideas in reality not just on screen. Ultimately we use these ‘things’ that we make to learn about people, as well as using the people to learn about things!”


These Tin Horse ‘dig’ tools are all about provocation. When developing new products or brands for the future, exploring what consumers currently think is certainly somewhere to start. However, Tin Horse argues that you need to understand what people will do in the future and need to change the emphasis from just being about the ‘now’. 


Martin describes another ‘dig’ Tin Horse tool known as ‘stimulating stimulus’. 


“We will create packs, products, ideas. Some of them are  outrageous, some of them just ‘plain wrong’ to explore the boundaries of consumer acceptability and expectation. This stimulus is designed to provoke and not intended to be the final solution: it helps us explore the future opportunities and generate the most right solution, not select the least wrong.”


So that’s just a few of the design tools Tin Horse use to ‘locate’ and ‘dig’. The Tin Horse Diamond Mining approach offers a clear step-by-step design process, and it works. But as Pete concludes, “Feel free to steal with pride any of the tools that can help you really understand the problem at hand, but don’t take this as set in stone- remember being effective is all about being agile. Diamond Mining can help us get there, but the ability to adapt in order to optimise effectiveness, is the most important mindset.” 


Stephanie Cornwall
Stephanie Cornwall