Since a crystal ball has yet to appear that allows direct access into the minds of consumers, those of us in the design industry are left to glean insight elsewhere.
Most often, that means walking a tightrope between form and function, forecasting and field research. We do our best to match established consumer research in design with products that are brand-unique, eye-catching and user-friendly — all while sticking to a production budget.
It's a process known as designing for consumers, and it's much easier said than done.
Luckily, how to design with consumers in mind is a philosophy many can adopt. From industrial designers seeking to sharpen their craft to innovators on the hunt for the next big paradigm shift, consumer perspective centers how real people interact with real products — often with novel design results.
Let's explore what consumer perspective is and exactly how it comes to define successful product design.
WHAT IS CONSUMER PERSPECTIVE?
Different schools of thought exist on how to approach and fabricate product design. Yet many of these approaches center on aesthetic principles or movements — the visual and spatial stylings of a product rather than its core features, purpose or effects.
Consumer perspective picks up where such insular form design leaves off. It still prioritizes beautiful and well-crafted designs, yes, but simultaneously values what that design does. In other words, the consumer design perspective aims to ensure a product not only looks good but actually works, simply and consistently, for its intended user.
While marrying the need for style and substance, design perspectives between industry professionals and the general public still stress different things:
1. Designing From a Professional's Perspective
It's the question at the heart of every professional designer's portfolio: How do you deliver a dynamic, beautifully crafted design that is as aesthetically pleasing as it is functional — yet still, above all, remains commercially viable?
Such is the task of the industrial designer. First and foremost, they understand products need to match market tastes and solve a target consumer's problems. But they also require manufacturing, assembly, distribution and sales at a reasonable price point for the parent company.
Professional designers mitigate these concerns when designing for a consumers' needs. Rather than relying upon pure left or right-brained approaches, they balance the perspective equation through a mix of creativity and research-backed calculations.
Designing from a professional's perspective means taking into account the following:
Consumer Behaviors: How do individuals make decisions on what to buy, keep or dispose of? What motivates a consumer's connection to a product as well as their wants versus needs?
Production Costs: What are the business logistics of their design, including the cost of materials, the means and cost of fabrication, amount of labor, distribution channels and any contribution to the manufacturing bottom line?
Larger Industry Trends: "Trend" can be a vapid word in design. From the consumer perspective, however, design trends often mirror larger shifts in values and norms that are imperative for producers to grasp. For example, the past few years have seen a dramatic surge in consumers valuing sustainability, with green brands and transparent, eco-friendly products or companies reaping the cultural benefits.
Usability and Ergonomics: Professional designers know that a product can be the most stunning, stylish piece ever to hit the market. Yet if it cannot solve a problem or make a task easier, it's inadequate.
Cultural Appropriateness: Designers must also account for the micro and macro socio-cultural factors that shape what a consumer thinks, believes and prioritizes in their products.
2. Designing From a Consumer's Perspective
It's not that consumers aren't concerned with many of the same variables as professional designers. However, their needs and interests are expressed on the opposite side of the supply-and-demand chain.
Consumers seek out and pay for products that fundamentally make their lives better. This definition is kept purposefully broad, as what it means to have a life bettered through consumer purchases means many things to many people.
A product solves their problem. First and foremost, commercial goods and services are useless to the individual if it does not make their life easier. From removing stains on clothes and securely backing up their computers to recording their steps throughout the day, people turn to products and technology to resolve a question or take care of a want they have.
A product aligns with their behavioral motivations. Whether it's imbuing a sense of greater belonging, increasing their self-worth, improving a skill or taking care of a physiological need, consumers seek out products that align with deep psychological motivators.
A product enhances their quality of life. Or, at least, it makes them feel that way — for a number of psychosocial, cultural and learned behaviors we'll explore at more length below.
At the end of the day, consumers look for designs and products that make them feel good about themselves, alleviating a problem or curating an experience. Thoughtful, consumer-focused design signals a product can do just that.
WHAT DO CONSUMERS LOOK FOR IN DESIGN?
If the primary goal of a consumer is to find a product that solves their problem with the least amount of effort, then designers need to fabricate those products around the word "effort."
Put yourself in the mind of the average shopper. While familiarity and brand loyalty drive up to 77 percent of purchases across a variety of industries, it doesn't actually define how those loyalties got to be there in the first place. After all, humans are more complicated than their favorite brand of cereal.
Swayed by both conscious and unconscious influencers, consumers across the board are concerned with the following effort-based and design-centric questions when first growing loyal to a product. It's these very questions that need to be tapped into when designing from a consumer's perspective:
1. Does the Product Solve Their Problem?
In marketing speak, this concept is known as a consumer pain point — a complicated, inconvenient, laborious or waste-of-time task that could be made faster and easier through a new product or service.
Pain points are often emotionally charged. Yes, people don't want to lose time or make a job harder than it needs to be. But the reason they don't want to experience these things is because these things pull people away from something else — a psychological cost-benefit analysis our brains play on repeat when we purchase and use products without even realizing it.
Designing for consumer needs means addressing one or more specific problems for a target demographic. Products need to innately connect with and offer recognizable solutions for a consumer's problem. If you can hack product designs to scream better functionality without sacrificing its look and feel, then you're well on your way to understanding this perspective of the consumer.
2. Is the Product Easy to Use?
Let's face it, few people read product manuals. Consumers want products they can jump into and use straight right away, without fuss or long learning times.
While that doesn't mean replicating the same old design molds of legacy products, it does mean taking the familiar and applying it to new, intuitive capacities. One of design's greatest strengths lies in its ability to reimagine what's considered conventional — then turn that reimagined idea into the new commercial standard.
Designing for consumers is no different. Products with clear model clues as to how they operate — from buttons and symbols to menu controls, layouts, names or diagrams — will be much more attractive to the everyday consumer. They don't need to be dumbed down designs, just instinctive enough to adopt easily.
3. Is the Design Simple and Straightforward?
Does the design of the product provide for a clear, quick and consistent means to accomplish its intended task? Does it take minimal effort, mental or physical, for that task to be performed? Are there distracting features or details that detract from the product's purpose and make it innately less user-friendly?
4. Are They Familiar With the Product?
Is the product a brand new piece of technology or something previously unavailable to the public? If so, does the design translate almost immediately what it is and what it's for, as well as lend to quick product adoption? The market's very first computers and cars are quintessential examples of this consumer familiarity principle, with products that had low-to-no precedent but high adoption due to their marriage of form and problem-solving function.
5. Does Form Match Function?
Does the product support an overall satisfying user experience, one where there are low error rates, few unnecessary steps, quick learnability and are readily adaptable to the consumer's typical day? More importantly, does it do what it's supposed to do, time and time again — or merely look good sitting inactive? Consumers shouldn't have to choose.
CONSUMER-FRIENDLY DESIGN AND AESTHETICS
Designing from a consumer standpoint has one crucial final element: aesthetics.
Research has shown a third of consumer decision-making comes based on the perceived attractiveness of product packaging. Likewise, other studies have shown the powerful emotional bond between brand icons and target consumers, as well as linked how quality designs can actually enhance the perceived value of the product plus imbue "peripheral cues" to amplify its emotional appeal, trustworthiness, brand personality and more.
Striking a balance between functionality and aesthetics is critical to design for the consumer's needs. There are powerful psychological motivators at work when it comes to product aesthetics that designers must learn tap into.
1. Consumers Care About Looks
Consumers still want to look cool while using a product. Even something as routine as a morning shave must imbue a sense of desirability that's still effortless and artful.
Many brands have attempted to tap into the "cool consumer" factor, with varying degrees of success. From its inception, Apple has cultivated a brand of cool by continually pushing its autonomous, creative, progressive and even free-spirit image. It's sleek, minimalist product designs and seminal logo directly contribute to its branding success.
What makes a product design innately appealing to a consumer? There are a few design variables:
Typography: Brand or product fonts directly convey personality. They can be authoritative, warm, playful, clean, ornate, whimsical — even feminine or masculine. Font size, spacing and placement also contribute to typography's aesthetic impact.
Colors: Product colors influence people's moods. Colors are typically learned associations, however, meaning they're culturally contingent and context-based.
Package Material Quality: Product packaging may not seem like a significant aesthetic concern, but consumer research in design suggests otherwise. Nearly 52 percent of surveyed consumers reported they're more inclined to return to a business if products come wrapped in premium, attractive packaging. Businesses that re-dedicated resources to better quality and better-branded packaging saw a 30 percent increase in consumer interest afterward.
2. Products Must Fit Their Lifestyle
People often form the basis of their identities off their lifestyle. This unique mix of the subjective — like tastes, attitudes and preferences — combined with the objective — like age, career, geography and income — create lifestyle-based market segments.
Product designs directly speak to a particular lifestyle segment. They catch a target consumer's eye and say, "I was made for someone just like you."
In-depth consumer research is the best means to capture the branding details of a lifestyle segment. Through interviews, lifestyle persona analysis, trend forecasting and culturally immersive studies, designers can create products practically irresistible to their intended audience.
3. Product Design Must Fit Target Demographics
Different demographics prioritize different product needs. It's a primary tenet within consumer research — and one that, when done right, directly informs the design process while strengthening the connection between a consumer and the product.
Socio-Cultural Design Research: A deep knowledge of cultural contexts is critical in today's world of designing for consumers. The beliefs, customs, habits and expectations of a broader culture not only drive many of its populations' behaviors — but it motivates individuals and shapes who they are. Culture is fundamental to designing products that register as attractive, innovative, useful and valuable — the winning recipe for an industrial designer.
Age: A brand's ability to make a millennial smile is 33 percent more important and useful in influencing a purchase, compared to Gen X or Baby Boomers. Conversely, Baby Boomers and older Gen X members are more swayed by designs that speak to straightforward functionality and quality as opposed to an emotional experience or social impact.
Personality: A consumer's personality effects what they prioritize in life, which in turn shapes their purchases. From emotional spenders or conservative planners to thorough product researchers or one-stop convenience shoppers, the relationship between personality and consumer designs is frequently studied and highly competitive. These data-driven insights lend themselves to how much information designers put on product packages, the kinds of icons used on new products, the details included in a product manual and much, much more.
DESIGNS THAT CONSUMERS WILL LOVE AND PEERS WILL ENVY
Design ignorant of the consumer's perspective is design that's shapeless.
You can cut through the noise of uniformed trends or empty aesthetics to tailor products that are relevant, innovative and beautiful when you put your mind directly in the shoes of the consumer. Using creative and culturally-relevant insights, your designs emerge ahead of the curve, as effective as they are eye-catching.
Consider partnering with design studios and creative consultants who make this approach their mission. Connect with Y Studios to see where cross-cultural, consumer-perspective design can take your brand.
Banner Image Credit: Xianjuan Hu on Unsplash
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