How Marketing Researchers See Design

Cowritten by Dr. Jaewoo Joo

"Designers don't just put cosmetics on the skin of a product!" During my interview with a graduate student at Ontario College of Art and Design in 2009, he argued that designers play a key role in developing a new product. Unfortunately however, marketing practitioners and researchers often imagine that the work done by a designer is just "plastic surgery."

Indeed, the objective of much marketing research on the topic of product design is to understand whether changing a product form affects consumer behavior. These changes might include aesthetic preference, product evaluation, choices and purchase intention.

Many marketing researchers aim to identify a better "face" of a product in order to attract greater attention from consumers and to increase the chance that their product is included in the consumers' consideration set, or to provide greater satisfaction to the consumers on the spot when it is chosen.

The primary reason that marketing researchers often limit the role of designers is that they pay far too much attention to the "outcome" of designers' activities. Many designers who research users, develop and evaluate concepts, and work with business strategists find it difficult to communicate with marketers, since marketers shed little light on the "process" of designers' activities.

The good news is that some recent marketing research demonstrates that when designers go beyond their purview and get involved in business tasks, the business performance of their firms increases.

For instance, a study published in Journal of Product Innovation Management showed that when a firm increased its "ID intensity" by having more design apprentices and students from design institutions in its new product development projects, its profit and growth rate increases (Gemser and Leenders 2001).

It will not take long now for marketers to recognize the eye-popping contribution that designers can make to their tasks. Until then, designers may wish to get familiar with business terms and practices to better communicate with marketers. In the end, design-conscious marketers work best with business-savvy designers to produce stylistic as well as profitable new products.

Special thanks to Dr. Jaewoo Joo for researching and co-writing this article.