How Consumer Insights Positively Impact Product Design

photo of consumer insights product design
  • Remaining objective during package design is crucial for the creation of the optimal consumer-friendly product.
  • Prioritizing both the client and the consumer experience will always yield the best product. Throughout the years, the products with the greatest consumer loyalty have consistently been designed with the consumer in mind.
  • At Product Ventures, we keep our clients informed and involved in every step of the design process. We bring them into our unique workshops to adjust product simulations in real time, keeping costs down and making timelines a priority.

When clients come to us at Product Ventures for design, they actually receive so much more.

Through decades of experience with product and package design, we have developed a unique approach to the design process that provides 360 degrees of consideration for your business’s needs while prioritizing cost-effectiveness and time efficiency. And it all starts with consumer insights.

Leading with consumer insights lets us find designs that are objectively better for consumers and that improve outcomes for our clients. Armed with a tried-and-true research process, we work to create high-quality designs that best fit within people’s lives and stand the test of time.

A system of checks and balances

If you’re a CPG professional, you might have some hesitation hiring a design agency to conduct consumer insights. You may worry an agency can’t be objective when conducting research on their own work. An agency may be tempted to put its thumb on the scale and inflate consumers’ response to designs. We understand this hesitancy comes from prior bad experiences.

At Product Ventures, we concern ourselves solely with the interests of our client and consumer. We are determined to find solutions that fit within people’s lives in the best possible way.

How do we maintain our objectivity? Every time we test products, we present at least three designs to consumers. This means we always compete with our own designs, which serve as a checks-and-balances system. We’re not out to tip the scales in favor of a particular design that we prefer (simply because we made it) or think that consumers should like. Instead, we want to put forth a range of options to gather information on consumer preferences. That approach allows us to find the best overall design — whichever one upholds both our client’s and the consumer’s best interests.

You may also be hesitant because your company already has dedicated researchers on staff who can perform their own consumer insights testing. That’s true, but our holistic design process works for our biggest clients because we integrate research into our design process. We design using research to get the best design. The consumer isn’t thrown in at the end to validate our work —, they inform the entire design process from the beginning.

So, what does that mean?

The power of consumer insights

One question many clients ask is, How do consumer insights actually inform and drive package and product design?

The answer — just like our research — is multifaceted. Designing for brands requires 360 degrees of consideration for all constituents of the product (or package), including:

  • The consumer
  • The business’s goals and objectives
  • The retailer
  • Sustainability and environmental factors

A 360-degree approach — one that understands all these constituents — is essential because the right design will satisfy each audience. You don’t want your design process to prioritize efficiency and sustainability then launch the new design only to discover consumers reject it.

You can consider research and consumer insights like selecting a doctor. You can always go to a general practitioner who generally understands any problem you report, but they won’t have the knowledge and skill of a specialist who can identify the real problem that needs to be solved.

For example, a generalist may hear “my knee hurts” and prescribe a painkiller remedy, but an orthopedist — equipped with decades of past experience — knows what questions to ask to uncover the real problem. Identifying that problem might require listening to the patient while also overlaying decades of experience to figure out what’s really going on. This can be the difference between recommending a dramatic correction (surgery) or something more reasonable (taking it easy with the morning jog).

We’ve worked with consumers for decades and we know how a consumer’s response to design often requires clarification or follow-up. Sometimes “I like the current design” means “I like one specific thing about the design.” That clarification might reveal “if you added this functionality, I would like it even more!” That can be an especially vital insight if our client’s competition is already providing that additional functionality in their design.

When consumer insights are guided by researchers without a specialty in design, the insights can often be obvious. We call these insights the “duhs.” A “duh” is when a report concludes “the product needs to fit comfortably in the consumer’s hand” or “the package should fit in a cabinet space.” These “insights” may seem novel to general researchers, but they’re too basic to assist the design process. We want to get past the “duh” and get to the “Aha!” — the insights that unlock genuine innovation.

This is the strength of having a design firm that specializes in consumer insights on design.

Our team of industrial designers works in tandem with our researchers. In fact, our team of researchers understands design better than most research specialists. Likewise, our designers understand consumer research better than most industrial designers.

This is what it means to have a holistic design process. We see how every constituent is affected by design. Ultimately, a balanced approach is essential for a design to be the right option that stands the test of time.

The research process

The consumer is one of the biggest constituents. After all, if they reject the design then it won’t be successful in the market. So while the initial design may be driven by other constituents’ needs — such as reducing costs for the business, improving sustainability for the environment, or creating shelf-friendly packaging for the retailer — ultimately the design needs to be accepted by the consumer.

Different methodologies can reveal different data about consumers’ response, but none of them are the end-all-be-all of gaining insights. At the same time, the process doesn’t need to be bogged down by multiple rounds of time-consuming research. Each research methodology serves its purpose to triangulate around the key design insight.

For example, you may be familiar with quantitative and qualitative research. Quantitative research provides large data sets across thousands of consumers. This type of research can provide an answer to a specific question such as “do our consumers like our package design?” If you ask 1,000 consumers whether they like your package design, you’ll get a clear answer from that data. On the other hand, qualitative research is more individual and specific. This type of research lets one of those thousand consumers go into detail about their like/dislike of the design. Qualitative data provides an opportunity to dig deep into what’s working and what’s not. 

CPG companies need the assurance that comes from research because any design project will eventually become a product produced at-scale. A single type of research isn’t enough to inform that level of decision-making. The design process requires both qualitative and quantitative research, as well as observing consumers’ behavior with the product and having a conversation about their response.

Our process excels because we nimbly navigate these multiple methodologies of research to get to the vital insight that informs our design.

This comprehensive, hands-on approach then improves the consumers’ ability to identify key elements to drive iterative design improvements. A hands-on approach is the foundation of our research. Here are several of the tools we use to gather consumer insights.

1.    Ethnographic research

Ethnographic research relies on the idea of observation without interruption — not unlike Jane Goodall observing gorillas without interfering with their day-to-day activities. This early qualitative step in the research process allows us to explore how consumers use a product in their daily lives.

Insights gathered through ethnography inform our workshops and help us to explore and focus the product design — in short, this research forms the foundation for the rest of the design process.

We can conduct this type of research both digital and in person, so we can learn about consumers from anywhere in the world. Tools like GoPros, iPhones, FaceTime and journaling allow us to gather consumer insights right from the source in the real world. What’s more, we can also share this research with our clients via video streaming rather than needing to be in person with them.

2.    Consumer workshops

Our in-house consumer insights labs have become a hallmark of our research process. During the research process, when decision-makers, researchers, and consumers are gathered together, we saw an opportunity to iterate design concepts in the moment.

As clients listen in to consumers’ feedback, we have the ability to change product stimulus on the spot in pursuit of the best design. Advanced prototyping capabilities — thanks to our unique in-house setup at Product Ventures — allow us to co-create with consumers and bring the drawing board right to the consumer, sometimes literally. Our research and design teams often sketch ideas as consumers are describing what they want to see in the design so they can ask for further feedback right away.

This format lets us do several rounds of research in one go, which is both efficient and cost-effective. These workshops allow clients to freely manifest new ideas as the conversation leads. As a result, we can tailor solutions that meet consumers’ needs in real time through a deeply collaborative process.

3.    Quant Qual

Both quantitative and qualitative data types are essential for good consumer research. We don’t just want to know whether consumers like a design but we need to know the whys behind their feelings about the design.

To gather both types of information, we created a blended tool called Quant Qual, a central location test. Quant Qual is a handheld voting technology that allows us to gather qualitative insights on a larger scale with an audience of around 25 to 30 target consumers. Verified users key in responses to a set questionnaire with quantitative consistency, all in real time.

After an hour of quantitative research with consumers, we can hand-pick respondents to stay for further discussion so that they can share the why behind their answers. From there, we can find opportunities to further improve the design and tailor it to meet their needs. At this stage of the research process, we have our best three designs — Quant Qual helps us to focus and select the best option to put forward into more expensive research.

4.    Shelf (in-home) and use test

A shelf and use test or an in-home use test helps us to see how consumers will use the product in their homes and how the product will naturally exist there. We recreate the in-home environment to let the consumer “live out” how they would interact with the design day to day.

Rather than sitting in a workshop environment and saying how they think a product would feel or work, consumers can see the design and use it firsthand in the same way they would in their daily life. All of this practical feedback helps us gives additional insights to validate the design and confirm that it meets consumer needs.

A true shelf test might analyze the eye-tracking or attention-grabbing qualities of the item on the shelf and gauge whether or not a customer ultimately picks it up.

These research methodologies make up the groundwork of our consumer research. A test market can also help us to forecast the design’s success, along with consumer interviews with those who took the product home so they can provide feedback.

Best practices we use to uncover consumer insights

Through the years, our extensive design expertise has shed light on time-tested research practices and on practices that are poor substitutes for consumer insights. Here are a few of the core do’s and don’ts that distinguish our research process.

Do let consumers experience the designs

Some designers rely on generic, unfocused online research, believing that they can throw product questions out to the internet, casting a huge sample-size net. They often ask people questions online about topics that should be experienced in a tactile way, such as structural packaging design.

At Product Ventures, we believe in tangible innovation. We work in the world of physical objects that need to be physically experienced in order to be understood. As a result, our research process creates space for consumers to touch, hold, and feel products — and we avoid online research that doesn’t give consumers that opportunity.

Don’t over-explain to the consumer

Another don’t in the packaging design research space is spoon-feeding the consumer. Asking leading questions or steering consumers toward a specific conclusion is dangerous and compromises the research process. It ultimately limits a researcher’s ability to arrive at the best possible design.

A product and its design should speak for themselves. As insight researchers, we are careful not to over-inform the consumer on how a product works. Rather, we want to observe how they think it should work.

Do design with a purpose

An objective research process involves isolating variables from design to design in order to assess which specific changes will improve the consumer’s experience.

Rather than changing aspects of the design at random — which elicits random consumer feedback — we make thoughtful, iterative changes that build on each other. As we present these changes to consumers, each step of the process contributes to our overall learning about how consumers view the design. We keep carefully recalibrating the design to tangibly improve it for the consumer.

photo of consumer insight product design

Consumer insights assisting design

Design can make or break the sales of a product — and consumer insights have the power to impact that design greatly. Here are three examples of those insights in action.

1. Identifying two audience attitudes toward personal lubricant

Consumer insights don’t just shape the functional elements of a product or package — they also inform the emotional aspects of a design.

When conducting research for a personal lubricant brand, we discovered a “discretion divide” between two different types of consumers. Some individuals were embarrassed or sensitive about the topic, and others were downright flamboyant toward it, seeing sex as a form of expression and delight.

The right design was needed to find a sweet spot that could meet the needs of both of these audiences — and consumer insights acted as our guide. We created a design that both evoked wonder for the more open audience but was discreet enough that the bottle could be left in the open without making concerned consumers feel uncomfortable. As a result, we met both the functional and emotional needs of consumers.

2. Using contextual interviews to inform coffee creamer experience

The morning coffee ritual is an important one for millions of consumers. But without actually talking to consumers, we wouldn’t have discovered how that ritual happens in practice — consumer insights let us craft a better design for one coffee creamer brand.

Leading competitors’ packages were designed for a “twist your wrist to pour” experience. This might work for consumers who sitting down when pouring their creamer, but when we interviewed consumers, we discovered that most were standing when pouring. The creamer was cold, and they wanted to put the container back in the refrigerator right away. When someone stands up to pour, they thrust their hand over to pour — twisting their wrist isn’t actually ideal.

Consumer insights led us to understand how consumers pour their creamer in practice. This knowledge, in turn, guided us to create an asymmetrical design that not only differentiated the product from its competitors but better matched the consumer experience.  

3. Improving quality of life through battery packaging

Packaging has wide-ranging consequences that can even affect consumers’ quality of life.

In one such example, packaging for hearing aid batteries also saw a major redesign. The packaging was so difficult to open that many aging consumers didn’t even bother to replace the batteries in their hearing aids. They would then stop wearing their aids altogether, which had a drastic effect on their quality of life — all because of poor packaging.

The battery brand went back to consumer research and revamped the packaging to better suit the needs of consumers. The brand didn’t just offer customers a better product experience. By limiting dexterity challenges and removing barriers caused by packaging issues, this brand gave its customers the freedom to hear the world as they wanted to.

At the end of the day, product and package design can have immeasurable impacts on people’s lives. We strive to give consumers independence, autonomy and downright good products. It’s deeper and more powerful than just simply a better design — products and packaging can change people’s lives.

Product Ventures works with the best-known brands to provide a holistic approach to product and package design. What can we do for your company? Contact us today to discuss your next challenge.