Innovation that actually helps people: a radical rethink of working gloves

Qual research is often part of a much bigger and longer process, be it developing a new product, creating an ad or segmenting customers. So it’s satisfying when you see something you have worked on come to fruition. I’ve really enjoyed working with Swedish design agency Pond on a couple of projects now, ethnographic work looking at how people really use products and tools and helping find ways to improve them. I’ve just come across videos Pond and their end client Snickers made about the tradespersons’ gloves innovation work we did together a few years ago – I did the British interviews and creative development groups for them. Here they are: Snickers work gloves – Pond design video.

It’s a good example of how ethnographic work can lead to a big insight and, more importantly, a genuinely new and better kind of product. The insight on work gloves was a simple but radical one (watch the video!). It came through getting tradespeople to talk about and show us what their handling and grip issues were, callouses and all. It turned out, gloves were one of those issues that generated really strong views among tradespeople, but which just did not get discussed in detail in normal working life. You could see the potential for innovation immediately: this was crying out “unmet need”.

Rethinking a category: "odd" gloves
Rethinking a category: “odd” gloves

It’s not always the most talked about issue which is the most important one. Careful probing, observation and (here’s the key) lots and lots of analysis and creative thinking is how you make a product design breakthrough like this. It helps that Pond have razor sharp research-savvy designers who “get” end-users. But crucially even they realise, you have to do the legwork, you have to watch and listen and you have to think hard. You have to immerse yourself in the complexities of real life before you can distil something simple.

Published by Simon Riley

Qualitative researcher in the UK. I listen to people from all walks of life and think about what it all means. I work for leading brands, media companies and government.

4 thoughts on “Innovation that actually helps people: a radical rethink of working gloves

  1. Fantastic! That’ s a great bit of research. I can understand your satisfaction with seeing the leg work transform in to something really useful. Without trying to dumb down the research in any way, the glove problem reminds of the episode in the comedy show KIng of Queens, where the father character arthur spooner labels his right and left socks because he says each sock has ‘toe memory’. He says, ‘as a sock evolves it either becomes a right sock or a left sock. mix them up and you’re setting yourself up for a day of misery… and shame.’ He’s so right- the sock just doesn’t fit unless all your toes are in their right grooves. Needless to say, my husband was so taken up by the concept he’s got L and R written on the bottom of his sock….sigh.


    1. Gayatri, how lovely to hear from you! Drop me a line some time on and tell me what you’re up to these days – I’m assuming still in India? I love the toe memory thing. I’ve been revisiting a lot of Seinfeld recently – introduced it to my 9-year-old lad and he loves it – and toe memory sounds like it’s straight out of George Costanza … or is it more Kramer? Totally right though. We are obsessed with symmetry (and I’d go further, we’re too obsessed with order in general) as a species; and accepting the lop-sidedness and inchoateness of many aspects of life, to get spiritual on your ass here, is kind of crucial to understanding what the bloody hell is going on. Which I don’t most of the time.


      1. Come to India if you want to see how lop-sided the world is and how life is a well-timed waltz through chaos, near misses and contradictions gone mad. Gotta love it! I will drop you a line soon.


  2. Oh I’ve been, Gayatri, I’ve been … and you’re not wrong. By contrast, I’ve just had a week in Austria and Germany. Great for a holiday but as a messy Briton, the neatness, organisation and efficiency start to gnaw at you. Britain, though from some angles a total basket case, is like my office – ordered mess, messy order, or something like that. It’s nobody’s idea of a perfect system but at least I know where everything is. Even if, to the outsider (which includes other family members) it’s a public disgrace. But India, it’s true, does chaos and contradictions like nowhere else. It is a truly amazing country. Catch up soon!


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