Design Research Trends -2006

What do you think the emerging desing research trends are for the new year?

I have observed design organizations foucsing on resesarch/usability as a differentiatior, and particularly as a way to compete against offshore design companies.

Thanks for the nudge. I have been thinking about this too.

For the larger product development consultancies, this has been the trend for the past five years. Now, the ability to “differentiate” by doing this sort of work is limited - i.e. nearly every firm now claims to “understand users” or “do consumer research” or “design strategy.” Most all of them do it the same way, that is, by looking at consumers/end-users first and then building a design spec from their findings. This process - if done by creative and intelligent people on both sides of the table - can generally yield something interesting and perhaps even profitable.

What seems to be lacking in this approach however, is the link between this “bottom-up” (read:middle-management) product/service development process with the more “top-down”(read:executive level) processes of brand and corporate strategy. Both are critical, but my opinion is that very few clients or consultancies can honestly claim to do both well.

We are seeing more “design strategy” firms add more disciplines like finance and brand strategy to their offerings. This is because, programs still often fail if they only produce “research + design.”

Not sure the validity here, but an interesting number of states-based ID consultancies are dropping the word quantitative with regard to their research. Seems to be happening more frequently. Methods such as online surveys rear up with regard to this, since its easier to get numbers up. They’ve said their clients are looking for it. I guess its a question of what you hope to find, but there so much benefit in design research that isn’t meant to be analyzed quantitatively. Though, rigorously with a clear chain of reason and support, of course. Personally, I’ve had nice success with both ethnographic research for more exploratory matters and integrated definition for projects with a more narrow scope.

I agree that user research as a discipline alone does not provide business differentiation, however the way it is applied can do so.
This is where linking design research into the brand and product development stategy can reap rewards. In the same way that a company can have a brand identity in its visual design language, it can also have experiential brand identity. Customers’ perception of this can be investigated using affective design techniques and incorporated into future designs. This can reinforce brand loyalty and drive future sales - which after all is the bottom line for most commercial organisations.
This should not be seen as an underhand manipulation of consumers however. The objective is to design products that give users greater delight and joy. i.e. satisfying their brand hopes and expectations.

On the subject of quantitative vs qualitative, it is not really a question of what you hope to find, as taylorl mentions, but rather what the purpose of the research is, who the end users are, and what they hope to do with the findings. Different research questions require different approaches.
One area where a lot of techniques fall down is creating objective targets from subjective research. This is particularly important within the New Product Development process at the point when engineers are expected to interpret designers wishes and come up with a product specification. It is an area where i believe we will see considerable work being conducted in the coming years,as shown by the growing interest in techniques such as Kansei Engineerng and other related statistical treatments of user opinions.

The trouble with this sort of work is that it is time intensive, and so tends only to be used by those companies with large in-house design departments (who also see the benefit of R&D)

i am not sure exactly what kind of analyses of design research you are trying to understand and or conduct, but i will throw in what i see as a good idea that is sometimes practiced. global, could be a household buzz word to throw around. there is also an awareness of consumers of the integrity of products whether it by via technological, sustainablility, ease of use, etc. but one common thread that creates an outstanding appeal for products is the common desire for a product that is intelligent. as cultures meld and information becomes more accessible, there will be a rise in the popularity of particular trends or styles. so, therefore, a more broad sense of what is deemed intelligent, beautiful, or on the forefront, will become more direct and legitamized as being “good”. many things shape this sense of what is good such as architecural movements (modularity/flat-pack), graphic art (neo-pop/graffiti), product form (organicism). all these things are relative and shape the minds of the users into believing in design rather than just being pleased with it as a piece of property. what i am saying is that products are now more engagingly manipulating the common person due to its proliferation and attached social/psychological meaning. design has now become a friend and the greater knowlege that the common person can acquire reflects more on their beliefs, sense of taste, and overall dispostion regarding global culture. today, this sense of relativity to the philosophy of life is more meaningful than ever. by following all of the streams of design that common man interacts with, will, in turn, allow for greater insight into the product development process. it is my theory or understanding, if you will, that we are ever increasingly becoming a product (or bi-product) of products in our environment. there are many ways to predict what will be popular, but that would take a shrewd, in depth analysis. but, its not as if it is so hidden because of the proliferation of design as a whole. the design world will not be so concerned with competition as it will collaboration.

Try this report for a review of trends in people centred design methods within major US technology companies.


I’m quite grateful four your posting of the oti.globalwatch link. It provides a wealth of concepts, a must-read for design educators.
Hartmut Ginnow-Merkert
Prof. of Experimental Design
Berlin-Weissensee School of Art and Design

I believe that after having talked to psychologists for a long time (plus so many other disciplines), the next decade of interdisciplinary design discourse will focus on neuroscience, particularly neurochemistry.
In our understanding of the biochemical reward mechanisms that make people do things - even against or in spite of reasoning - we will discover new clues for what emotion is and how to control it by design.

Hartmut Ginnow-Merkert
Prof. of Experimental Design
Berlin-Weissensee School of Art and Design

…controlling emotion is design research?..sounds pretty freaking scary to me, dr. frankenstien…are you sure your not in marketing?

Intellectual gifts are spread quite unevenly - you don’t need to demonstrate that here. For you I’ll try to explain it in simple words: when you design an iPod or produce a Disney movie you control emotions. When you manage to do it by gut feeling you’re a genius. If you do it analytically/systematically, you do design research. Comprende, cowboy?
I just hope you’re not a design student. Or how/where did you sneak through the admission exams?

As technology matures and the world saturates with products - design increasingly is about manipulating human emotions. Whether it can be done analytically is an interesting issue. Once you notice a pattern in things – whether it be Disney movies or Apple products, it is likely that some aspects of what drives emotive response is understood and therefore can be re-produced.

Not sure if this would be design trend ? trends are usually short-lived. Academic research is generally off mark, often following the tail end of industry practice. It may be more interesting to ask what is worth researching in 2007 ?

My Take:

I think, the more exciting stuff for 2007 is going to be customization of products and the increasing opportunities for consumers to participate in the design process. Like news that was once fed from media companies to consumers being revered by blogging pod casting and like, design is likely to flow in the other direction – from consumers upwards. This would herald a fundamental change in the practice of design.

customization, user generated, bling, eco,emotion …all so 2001-2006.

In my opinion, I think the coming trends include honesty and quality.

To date, there has been much made of design, form giving, wit, and over the top statements of artistic intent (reference, alessi, apple, mooi, banksy). And these have all come and gone.

What I truly believe the next generation of consumers will realize and adopt is some element of classic appeal and traditional values.

Im not saying every designed object will be black (although black is the new white ala macbook/iphone). More so that the expression of design has progressed and matured such that design need not shout at the consumer and a certain element of refinement and expected level of design has arrived.

More and more as gadgets and technology advances there is an ever increasing degree of short-termednes to the products we consume. This I believe is making an impression on the consumer in conjunction with the more prevalent tech news (blogs, etc.) to the degree of prermanance any object holds within our society.

A reaction against this I hold will be the acceptance and seeking of quality and honesyt. Marketing BS, buszzwords, memes, virals and the like are so cogniscent today that rarely a media driven buzz has the effect a brand intends via mass market corruption (ie. GM make your own commercial).

Rather, its is those lacking qualities of timelessness and appropriate age that are so obvious in the latest, greatest and newest marketing and products released.

There once was an age when quality was really the number one benefit. Blenders, TVs, cars were sold on the basis of “being good for the next generation”. These claims were not technology based, and yet were not in spite of technology, but rather spoke to the human element of perseverance of values over gizmos.

I think this is coming back.

Witness the simplification fof products. Witness the back compatitble of gaming systems, newer media players, etc. the resurgence of handcrafted goods and mass-explosion of homeade, DIY, and antique values.

This longing for the past is not one of nostalgia, but rather the valuing of those truely valuable qualities that really are important in the ever increasing and changing world of Mbits, IP protocols and HD formats.

Quality and honesty are non-competitive in the sense that they are not subject to quantification by capacity, speed, bits, bytes and MMs. They are what they are.

Today and in the near future I think more products will embrace these qualities and relax on the race for specs and get back to the past (not retro tho) in true valuable values.

As an avid collector of mid century furtniture and appliances I can certainly say I much more value my 1960s cast metal chrome osterizer blender with 2 speeds (on and off0 than any of the disposable plastic B&B juck of tody. Why? It works, been working for 40+ years, and if it breaks i can fix it, which is better than junking it and getting a new one at WalMart.

But thats just me.


For 2007, I think Web 2.0 will begin to creep into formative design research. Designers will use new internet-based tools to reach out to users. New protocols will be invented as a result (pager studies are so 90’s!) Participatory design will accelerate.

I think the emerging trend in research will be a commando style, get out and do it with the people, approach. I think this will be a reaction to over thought research briefs that are too complicated and sophisticated for most clients. …not to mention too expensive. an example will be teams of developers renting an RV, driving to a market, setting up a “play room” for quick interactive prototyping that leads to meaningful products and experiences. the development teams will come from all over the respective organizations and their work will be direct and one and one with the market or target.
I think surveys will continue to put big companies out of business.
I think focused inspiration and emmersion in a specific subculture will rule king. In this area there will be very little “research” because the people doing it are so immersed that they are researching as a matter of doing.
I think smaller niches of do it yourselfers will drive the markets and the design and purchasing habits of taste makers. I think a lot of companies will not get it and I think research won’t help them get it or break into it.

Finding out about a thing is very different from being a part of a thing and being a part of a thing will be key. Less finding out data, more being the data point.

I think a dominate trend will be translation companies…companies that act as translators between corporations and microcultures…ex skateboarders or knitters. These translators will act as revolutionaries by pointing out that the only option is get people who are the data point target to run the company.

I think a coming trend will the diffusion of the “professional expert”. In many cases, design and consumer research is not rocket science but our profession as a whole likes to spin it that way because when you are the only expert your value is higher. …not to mention validating all the schooling and ongoing training and professional identities…
I think the coming trend will be savvier people everywhere.

It is a wonderful and scary future in my head.

In short, I think the cowboy that was bonked above might be more the trend than the smarti-pants. There is a growing anti-consumer trend, anti-mind control trend that has been growing over the last 5 years. It is becoming mainstream. It will change how we think we will “control” user emotions. When people feel they are being brainwashed or controlled they revert to trust and authenticity. They will seek ways to make their own experiences and they will do this because they don’t like the thought of some intellectual playing with their head or controlling their emotions
…and I am not saying that to offend or ignite I am saying that because I have heard such grumblings from the people who pull the strings, clients and CEO’s who feel that consumer research is disconnected from reality…or to say, too academic. And I don’t disagree because the people I have talked to are well educated, savvy and innovative.

regarding real cowboys…
cowboys lived it. it was a rough life. they ate very little. they worked hard long hours filled with danger and dehydration. they trusted no one but other cowhands. they lived that way to survive. outsiders were called city slickers and they were not to be trusted…because they had no relation to what they lived. this is food for thought.

…i didn’t mind the bonking from ‘smarty-pants’…everyone has an opinion and a right to express it…i have been to the rodeo…sat behind the two way mirror for more hours than i care to recall and i have visited consumers in their homes many times to interview and observe…the latter, i have found to be much more valuable to the design process…other than a few prepared questions, i had no control over the proceedings or the results…i just followed the lead of the consumer, where ever that took me…all of my research experience was conducted as designer for the company who would ultimately be producing the new products, so trust wasn’t an issue and maybe that’s the key…with a few days of training most any open minded and teachable person can get the basics of user research down and perform…rocket science it is not…sorry, professor!

I think the most important research is to understand about people and the environment.

rkuchinsky wrote:

What I truly believe the next generation of consumers will realize and adopt is some element of classic appeal and traditional values.

… Rather, its is those lacking qualities of timelessness and appropriate age that are so obvious in the latest, greatest and newest marketing and products released.

There once was an age when quality was really the number one benefit. Blenders, TVs, cars were sold on the basis of “being good for the next generation”. These claims were not technology based, and yet were not in spite of technology, but rather spoke to the human element of perseverance of values over gizmos.

I think this is coming back.

Amen, that was great,
I hope your right rkuchinsky about it coming back and in our life time.

I hope that future trends push toward product longevity and “feel-good” purchasing that lets consumers feel-good about knowing that they are supporting companys that care about the big picture. I’d love to hear “design morality” become a buzz word. Todays generation of myopic thinking consumers have to be given a prescription for change. I’m really excited too see were the smaller niches of do it yourselfers will drive the markets, design and consumerism.

Great discussion all

Cheerygirl get it together! jk


i’m cracking about methods at the moment. But I want to make sure the track I am working on is correct.

I think there is going to be another major change : Acceptance of Diversity in Design

Companies are realizing and are forced to realize due to market conditions that the world consists other than men: women, older people, disabled people and people of different believes.

All notions of what good design is about has been based on myopic cultural perspectives primarily of European origin - which is very well developed and has ridden he wave of globalization and is being rapidly adopted. This may change.

More importantly, I think “what is good design ?” will become a global question will be developed from multiple perspectives based on better developed theories than what we have now. Hopefully, these criteria’s will be infinitely superior to the criteria’s used by committees that dole out design awards.