Design Stimulus Kit (CMF)

Has anyone ever developed a stimulus kit to explore design with consumers in regards to color, material and finish?

I am looking to explore with consumers different approaches to color, material and finish of out-of-category product(s) to gauge preference and probe what aspects make it appealing. I have a few ideas how I might do this but am very curious to see if anyone has any success with doing anything similar in the past that I could reference and build upon.

I would appreciate any ideas.


That seems like a good idea to me, but I have a colleague who just spent 6 weeks doing user survey stuff with regards to color. In my opinion, it yielded little info that my design intuition told me before we began. I would think that if any design work should not be left to the consumer, it would be color.

Then again, our approach could have been the problem.

I’m sorry I can’t help with how to go about doing this as I have never done anything like this myself, but still I must disagree with Cameron on this one. It’s not about leaving anything to be decided by the consumer, it’s about trying to understand how the consumer responds to colours, materials, texture and finish.

So for the approach I think it’s important to remember: users don’t tend to give you any good answers if you just ask what they want, you need to observe (including interview of some sort I’d think) how they behave/react/etc… and try to understand what they want… ehm… I think :wink:

Hope something more tangible comes out of this thread because I think it’s an interesting subject.

Good point Jada. I think if you framed it that way it would be a great exercise.

sorry to be so contrary, but gotta say i think focus groups and the like and worthless. especially discussing trends so far out. most people have no capacity for this and only “like what they know, don’t know what they like”. I think you’d be far better off consulting a designer who is specialized in forecasting than going the polling route. Not to mention 95% of all focus groups or surveys I’ve seen are leading or asking irrelevant questions…


I think this is the main problem, and is inseparable from the focus group/survey approach. Didn’t Einstein say something about nothing being more dangerous than asking the wrong question?

Might be true that many focus group fails and there are many pit falls (there are some good examples of i; ford’s edsel being one of the school examples). But that doesn’t mean focus groups are bad per se, it means they are damn hard to do right! Having someone with more experience on this to do it instead of doing it yourself is probably a good idea too (if a possibility).

But I don’t think the idea here was to do any trend analyses, but to understand something more basic about product and user in terms of material qualities and colour. Different kind of products and contexts have different colours and materials qualities tied to them. It’s not all just coincidence and trends that determine this, the trick here is to separate category conventions (what people are used to and probably what they’d tell you if asked directly) from what people actually feel (hearing aids don’t have to be beige, and if this is preferred, why so?).

But, like Cameron said, you know a lot already. As a designer you are also a consumer and a user of products…

I have experience doing this.

Forget focus groups, and forget about asking them directly. What you want to do is use upfront participatory/generative design research to get your subjects to tell you how they feel about style, so that you can make good design decisions.

For a recent design-language project, we built a kit that we mailed to participants that included several associative exercises. The exercises never asked “what color do you like” but rather had them associate chips of colors, patterns, textures and even adjectives to contexts like home, work, communication and entertainment via collage. We provided the pieces and parts. We also asked them to rank-order sets of common items, and then tell us why. Things like cars, furniture, wristwatches, detergent, computers… And we asked them to pair up a set of celebrities (people with widely known personalities) to brands in the area of our research–including our own.

I know the Dell design group recently did some “perceived quality” studies where they had participants grope objects hidden underneath a black sheet. They provided feedback purely based on what they felt. Isolating the senses that way is another good technique.

The key is to set up a framework, but allow them to be very open-ended–and really force them to utilize their right-brain.
I think if you do a good job of this upfront, you won’t even need (or want) to do any confirmation research later.

I think a little participatory design goes a long way, but you can use your kit for that vs a focus group. When I was working on performance product with athletes we would take every opportunity we could to do some participatory design with the athletes, sketching with them, going through drills if we could and so on.

Zippy- good topic…

I have done this a few times, but I never use the same kit. I do repeat the format though. I always thought this was called creating an inspiration board. I’ve always taken a look at the specific project or customer and written a quick list of adjectives or things that describe the brand language or the project. I then take this list and subdivide it in to categories, “natural”, architectural", “tech”. I go through these boards with the customer/team and we look for visual cues. This is often where material, form, and color get a good start.

Hopefully this helps. (I’ve kept all these boards, so in a sense I have a kit that continuously grows)

hi ! manty1311
you said “I’ve kept all these boards, so in a sense I have a kit that continuously grows”
if you don’t mind .would you share them with us (or me )
i am very intersted in this and i am needing some Reference about this
so may i ? expect communicating with you further!!

Ignoring case studies, does something like a “materials and finishes swatchbook” exist where, rather than a billion pantone samples, it’s a book loaded with various materials processed in different ways, so you can just yank it out and run through it, see what you think could work for a given use?

You probably couldn’t use it to spec exact things as with pantone, but would it have a benefit to help designers visualize a product and parts of it?

So how did your exploration go - anything interesting to share?

For this (and most design research), surveys and questionnaires are not the best way to go. Interactive meetings with customers could yield lots of ideas, especially if it’s done in a non-direct way. For example: instead of asking what colors they want, you could shadow them on shopping trips, watch what they buy (and try on), and make assumptions of what they like… there are lots of other ways even better than this

Here’s a chart which I think is accurate about how many ideas are produced by a rigid research vs. design research. With the former, you’ll only learn what is outlined in questionnaires, the later allows more flexibility