Good research drives great design

Susan Nelson and Mary Zalla
Landor Perspectives 2010

The Tropicana “orange and straw” debacle is well on Its way to becoming a classic example of redesign gone wrong. The lesson is simple but profound: Good designers always remember that they are designing for real people, not for their firms, themselves, or even their clients. This means that design and consumer research are inextricably linked.

Design, at its core, is an empathetic undertaking. Unlike art, which springs from the artist's need for self-expression, design is always for someone else. Both are creative, innovative, and original. But for all they have in common, art and design are very different. Design seeks to enhance a consumer's experience of or interaction with a product. It's all about problem solving and communication.

Good research properly applied can be a designer's best friend. Yet, sad to say, every designer has experienced the pain of poorly conceived or poorly applied research. As much as good information is invaluable to the design process, poor research can subvert and even kill great design. Here are a few points for getting the most from your design research.