At this year’s Trends Day a cheque for £1,500 was awarded to Luigi Toiati of Focus Research, Rome, for his paper on collages. The judges, who included Publicis’ Dan O’Donoghue, Planning Shop’s Tina Berry, ase’s Anne Hastings, CRAM’s Simon Patterson and Campbell Soup’s Jeremy Speechley, were full of praise.

It enables respondents, they said, to express themselves in much greater depth during sessions, and gives researchers a whole new tool for the future. In the past collages have had something of an image problem, tending to be rushed through and often treated less than seriously by clients.

Indeed some, Luigi feels, are a waste of time. What he proposes, therefore, is a completely new, more structured way of dealing with this whole topic with individual sessions lasting up to 25 minutes at a time.

He has devised a four-part grid, based on the Chinese philosophy of the Tao, which is geared to working towards the center, or what he terms the ‘essence’. At the start of every session, he teaches respondents what each part of the grid stands for and what criteria he feels they should use when selecting items to place in each one.

The top left hand of the grid is titled ‘physical/emotional’, top right ‘critical/emotional’, bottom right ‘sensorial/introspective’ and bottom left ‘creative/passionate’. Respondents, after a comprehensive induction session, are encouraged to work together for a better result.

Each part of the grid requires a different approach, which is then analysed in a specific way. This contrasts with the approach commonly used by researchers, which is to take collages to clients and explain them face-to-face.

The case study used to demonstrate his theory focused on fabric and clothes, but new product development is just one of many areas where the ‘Tao Collage’ might be used. It could also prove helpful, say the judges, in looking at the composition of brands, making people break them down in different ways.

The paper is currently being translated from Italian into English ‘research speak’. Luigi plans to run a workshop on this topic, hosted by AQR, in the New Year at which time the paper will be made available to a wider audience.