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January 7, 2013

Design Research Pitfalls (New Cartoon!)

Occasionally, clients will ask me to conduct research on an array of package concepts that are well down the path in cost and feasibility assessment.  They want consumers to select from a tight range of actionable concepts, even if those concepts vary in extremely subtle ways.  There’s nothing wrong with showing consumers actionable designs.  However, when they are hardly distinct, the research could backfire big time.  Here’s why:

  • A lack of distinction across the stimulus array will make it hard for consumers to find and articulate the perceptual and functional differences that impact them.
  • Minute distinctions may mask an underlying opportunity to exceed consumer expectations.  Often you may hear them say “It doesn’t really matter”.  Here, there’s no way you’re going to be surprised.
  • A lot of time and money may have been spent on prototypes that suggest derivatives of a final design rather than preliminary concepts for exploration.  Concepts should always look and feel “early-stage” so that consumers will believe their input counts.    Unless, of course, you are conducting usability testing.
  • As suggested by the rather silly caption above, it’s very difficult to get at the emotional and lifestyle underpinnings of choice when everything looks generic.  Marked distinctions are much more likely to elicit comments about “fit”.

So even if you have little inclination to move into production with every concept you show, show a disparate range.  You’ll learn much more about what works for the consumer–perceptually, functionally and emotionally.  And you can use that learning to refine the concepts you can execute.  There are many ways to do this to avoid the prototype trap:  Found objects; Consumer Promise statements and attribute-driven concept boards can work together to build fresh insight that will provide focused direction for concept refinement.

In sum, showing just what you can (or want to) make in a derivative range ignores the role of the consumer in your inquiry.  But give them distinctive options to chew on and they will reward you with new learning, fresh opportunity and an actionable solution.  And that works for everyone.

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