Market Feedback – Listening to the Customer

I’ve always maintained that there should be a close and healthy two-way relationship between the designer and the marketing department. It’s critical that there is a good flow of communication when new products are being designed and developed.
As designers, we can’t be successful designing in a vacuum, taking into account consumer insights are all part of the process. Though a good industrial designer can often come up with some great innovative ideas, it’s the consumer that will in the end be making the product a success or otherwise.

Just as important as the flow of communication between user and designer is the QUALITY of the information that is steering the development. Listening to the right people and making sure that the way you interpret the information is so important.
Recently I’ve been asked to design a product based on what the company termed ‘marketing feedback’. I can’t give too much detail away about the company but suffice to say that the changes were very fundamental and many of them seemed to me to be rather dangerous in that they would have narrowed the market for the product quite considerably. The feedback, it transpired was based on the product manager asking the others in his office what they would change about the product, writing it down and then using this as a brief for me.

Asking the right questions to the right people, interpreting it correctly and quantifying the importance and impact of the suggestions is a real skill and if this stage is taken lightly, the net result is quite often, more harm than good. The research has a direct effect on the salient factors in the product development and taking a leading role, screening ideas and keeping consistency is key. Without this, the old adage of ‘the tail wagging the dog’ springs to mind.
A sample of 6 people working in the same office is clearly not really a representative sample and a solitary question ‘what would you change’ is not really likely to provide anything but a confusing jumble of alternative options.
So dangerous when NPD can cost many thousands in capital investment.

I think this blog post could go on for a very long time if I was to go into depth about the various methods of getting market feedback and designing the method taken to capture and interpret the data. The truth is that the tools are out there, not hard to find and they can be fairly simple in most cases too.

Things that really help at this stage are having clear, brief and quantifiable questions which can be ‘weighted’ in order of importance in order to balance the result.

Without these basics, the danger is in making poor judgement or basing development guidance on the whims of a few.

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