The Link Between Market Research and Design

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How to Create Effective Design Using Market Research

How to Use Market Research for Design

Understand how each stage of the market research process can help you create more effective designs for your business.

September 8, 2021
9 minutes


Effective market research can help you position your brand and create a unique value proposition, as well as communicate these things through effective design.

Graphic design is a way to convey a certain message to a specific audience in a visual way, combining design elements such as color, typography, illustrations and more.

In that respect, graphic design is anything but random. It requires serious research into what message is being conveyed and to whom. A graphic designer has to understand the industry they’re designing for, relevant trends and have access to the business strategy that defines the short and long-term goals of a business.

We’re going to guide you through specific elements of it and teach you how to use market research as a base for design.

What is market research and why is it important?

Conducting market research means using a set of techniques to better understand a business’ target market. You can choose to do this process yourself or hire a market research agency.

There are many reasons why market research is so important for your business. First of all, it helps you identify your customer base, based on their needs and your own ideas on how you can solve their problems. In this respect, market research is a necessary step in the branding process.

Next, it helps you to differentiate yourself from your competitors, and see potential areas where you can offer a different or better product or service. It helps you determine all the components of your marketing strategy: what sort of messages are you trying to convey, to whom and how.

Finally, it’s been said a long time ago that “customer is king”. It still rings true today, especially in modern industries such as SaaS, where the complete business model adapts to the often changing needs of the customer. Market research can ensure you provide the best customer service and always design products with the needs of your customers in mind.


The market research process

There is no one way to do market research. The most effective methods usually include some forms of both quantitative and qualitative research, but each of these can be done in a number of different approaches.

Here are some ideas of the steps and tactics which the process might include, and how they affect design decisions.

Create user personas

Market research can focus on helping you define your overall business, or finding potential customers for a new product.

Depending on what you want to do, you’ll need to define the target customers you wish to market to.

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This will, of course, be related to the kind of problems you’re wishing to help them solve. Instead of gathering just generic demographic data, try to find out why they might be interested in using your product and how they could benefit from using it.

How does this affect design?

We’ve already said that professional graphic design is always created with a target audience in mind. Creating a personification of your ideal customer will help you to define an art direction and the tone of your marketing messages.

If you know who your customers are it’s also easier to find a way to reach those who aren’t.

A good example comes from the famous toy manufacturer LEGO. They conducted a survey that showed only 9% of the children buying their toys were female. And this wasn’t because girls don’t like to build things - it was because they like to build different things and didn’t respond to the company’s messaging.

So, after a survey involving over 3,5000 girls and their mothers, in 2012 LEGO introduced a new line of toys called Friends, that used a different, brighter color packaging and different types of figurines that encouraged more progressive gameplay.

And it paid off: just two years later, in 2014, LEGO replaced Mattel as the biggest toy manufacturer in the world,

Conduct surveys and interviews

A couple of the most popular market research techniques are surveys and interviews. The first can be widely dispersed, or used in a more narrow setting such as a focus group. Interviews are usually used as a follow-up to a survey, in order to get a more detailed account from the respondents.

These are all good ways to test your buyer persona assumptions, and of course, adjust them if needed. Interviews in particular, might be helpful to shed light on areas you might have overlooked; small details that might not be integral, but could perhaps make your businesses more appealing to potential customers.

How does this affect design?

Since this is a time for testing things out, at this stage you should also test out different design routes. If you’re trying to get new leads, experiment with the design and placement of your lead capture forms. Ask people to choose from several design styles and if they want to provide feedback on them.

Huge companies are surveying their customers on a rolling basis in order to bring innovation and improvements that people want to see. Salesforce has a forum called Idea Exchange, where people can submit feature ideas but also vote for the ones they like.

Of course, social media is a powerful tool to use for this type of market research. It allows you to gather both quantitative and qualitative data, as you can engage with your customers, ask them for feedback on new products, or respond to their complaints directly.

Product/service based research

While it’s helpful to know what people say they want, it’s far more important to understand how they’re actually using your products.

This part of market research includes monitoring website analytics (how do people land on your website and what do they do there) and purchase patterns.

How does this affect design?

These days, product design usually refers to the development of digital products (such as apps). In essence, any type of product design, including physical products, is based around the users’ needs and how this particular product helps meet them.

In that respect, it’s evident that market research is critical.

One famous example is YouTube. You might not know that YouTube first launched as a video-dating website called Tune In Hook Up (ok, so not even the name was that great). After the site failed to attract ample users, the founders came up with another idea.

Fortunately, their own failure coincided with Janet Jackson’s SuperBowl wardrobe incident, which led them to discover that finding videos online was surprisingly difficult (and sharing via email even more so).

The best ideas usually don’t come out of thin air. Research can help you find an alternative use for your idea (or piece of software) that can make it a lot more useful and profitable.

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Competitor analysis research

It’s pretty intuitive that anytime you need to make big business decisions, you’re going to check out your competitors.

There are many ways to conduct competitive research. You can check out their website traffic data with a tool like Ahrefs or SEMrush; or see what their Facebook ads look like on Facebook Ad Library.

You should definitely sign up for their newsletters as well, so you see what types of campaigns they’re running and the content that they’re sharing.

How does this affect design?

When it comes to design, competitor research can be quite tricky. On one hand, it’s useful to give you an idea of what some industry standards are (especially if you look at the market leaders), but on the other, it can be tempting to simply copy their design.

This is never a good idea, as it can harm your brand image and brand recognition: if people can’t tell you apart from the competition, they will most likely forget about you.

Understanding your competition will also help you identify their weaknesses. A famous example are Burger King’s marketing campaigns that constantly roast their main competitors McDonald’s: whether it’s the size of their hamburgers or the loss of trademark for their Big Mac, Burger King really knows how to take advantage of its competition.

silly whopper.jpg Adeevee

burger king not big macs.png Solitivo

Naturally, if you’re not a huge corporation this kind of direct attack might be seen as crude, but it does illustrate an important point regarding market research and design.

Knowing what your competitors are up to will allow you to distinguish yourself from them with good design.

Brand awareness research

This type of research measures customer awareness of your brand. It can help you to better understand how to position yourself on the market, and what

Brand awareness is measured in two ways: brand recognition and brand recall. The first refers to an aided form of recognition, where the name of a brand might not immediately spring to mind, but you could recognize it between similar products (e.g. something we don’t buy regularly, but even the occasional purchase gears us towards the familiar one).

Brand recall is something most well-known brands have, in which case people are able to think of their brands without any extra cues: when you think about soft, fizzy drinks the first one that comes to mind is usually Coca-Cola.

How does this affect design?

What is it that helps brands like Coca-Cola reach that level of recognition? Amongst other things, design.

Probably the most successful example of this is Apple. Of course, Apple products are beautifully designed and respond very well to the needs of consumers. However, if you were to compare an iPhone and an Android phone the physical appearance isn’t all that dramatic.

The success of Apple lies in the fact that its design is connected to its brand. When you think of Apple, you usually think of young(er) professionals in creative industries; the Apple logo is itself a symbol of prestige that no matter how good the actual software is, other similar brands can’t seem to attain.

The limitations of market research

Sometimes, even the best research has its limitations. An infamous example is Coca-Cola’s new formula, called New Coke which was released in 1985.

Since they were constantly beaten by Pepsi in blind tests, Coke decided to introduce a new, sweeter version of their iconic drink. They certainly put the research behind it as some 200,000 respondents said they preferred New Coke over both Pepsi and the classic Coke.

The result? Total failure. After just 79 days and numerous phone calls from disgruntled customers, Coke reinstated its classic drink. This example shows that people’s brand perception can be much more powerful than reality. People love Coke because it evokes a sense of nostalgia. New Coke could never do that, no matter how many blind taste tests it won.

How does this affect design?

So, when it comes to design it’s important to remember to stick to some basic best practices and principles.

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Although people claim they always want something innovative and new, this may not always be the case. Especially if you have an established and loved brand, going completely off the beaten path can be quite harmful.

Before conducting market research, make sure you have a clear understanding of why you are doing it and what you want to achieve.

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Danica Popovic

September 8, 2021

Having lived and studied in London and Berlin, I'm back in native Serbia, working remotely and writing short stories and plays in my free time. With previous experience in the nonprofit sector, I'm currently writing about the universal language of good graphic design. I make mix CDs and my playlists are almost exclusively 1960s.