During qualitative research sometimes people get stuck on a thought or an emotion. They struggle to articulate or express what they are thinking and feeling and why. By building in creative and projective techniques we can help to free their expression, which gives us richer insights into the topic at hand.

We believe strongly in using both creative and projective techniques. Not only does this approach keep a session alive and interesting, but it helps people to express their most natural perspective on a topic. It brings them to deeper emotions. It lets people step by step conceptualize the unknown, leading to answers that are more genuine.

Here are a few of the projective techniques we keep in our toolbox that help lead us to deeper and more meaningful insights. You can read the article about our creative techniques here.

Projective techniques help to express without limitations

The Q&A approach focuses on the left brain answers, which are primarily logical. Using projectivity unlocks the right side of the brain. This approach steps away from generally accepted beliefs, norms and values. It opens up imagination. Especially around sensitive topics it allows to get to more depth and understanding.

Sharing the output is key to let people purely describe what they see and feel, but never challenge their imagination – only probe for better understanding on your end.


This is a basic projective technique that takes little preparation and execution time and has a great result. From a set of images people select the image that represents the feeling that they have around a concept, design or brand. They then describe what they see in the selected image, what associations it created for them.

Why does the photosort work? Talking about the image explicitly and implicitly about the topic makes people relate to the idea in a new way that is not connected to the obvious.

Tip: Do not ask to explain why they chose the image, because that only leads to them rationalising the choice. Know what you are probing for.


This requires more skills of the researcher to bring people in the right mindset. If applied well it has a rich result. We invite people on a trip with a spaceship and slowly bring them into a world of imagination. People have some time to disconnect from their current situation and step into the imaginative world. We guide them wandering around with questions. Back on earth they describe their observations.

Why does the spaceship work? While still verbal, this exercise taps into creativity and imagination and allows people to go beyond the limitations their brain puts on what is possible.

Tip: No rush, no jokes that interrupt the imagination. Prepare relevant questions for this tour.

A world without

This exercise reveals and builds on deep desires and fears by asking people to imagine and describe a world without something dear to them.

Why does the world without work? The extraction or adding of an element forces people to choose. To really imagine the impact of that element in their lives. It is pushing the boundaries of their imagination. It allows them to step away from logic, tapping into the emotions.

Tip: Make sure to explore nuance. Not making it a black and white picture.

Transparent body

When working with a concept or product that impacts the body, using the transparent body exercise helps to get to people’s true feelings and understandings around the idea. You invite them to imagine that they’ve been given a new ability, to see their body in transparent layers, how it functions. Then you ask them what happens when they inject or are exposed to the topic at hand. Have them describe in an imaginative, not scientific way, what happens.

Why does the transparent body work? This helps people move beyond rational logic, breaking down barriers and norms to express how they feel about the topic.

Tip: Give this one a bit of time. People need time to project this and to feel the impact, so don’t rush it.

Be perceptive and flexible. Empathize to find what works for them. For example: Are your respondents more Pinterest oriented than collage oriented? Let them find an image that represents X in Pinterest. Or do you find they are too educated or prejudiced about a certain technique? Help them to succeed in the exercise by adapting to who they are.

Be confident and comfortable. It’s important for the moderator to embrace these exercises and lead them with confidence. If you act like they’re weird then people will feel uncomfortable or struggle to fully participate. Go ahead and address that it’s something different and a bit “out there”! Then people are able to relax and explore the topic with a free and fun approach.

Let us know if you know of some great projective techniques we should try!

Moniek Tersmette and Megan Pratt