Market research is particularly important, but is often misunderstood, and frequently confused with sales.
It is over 45 years since Theodore Levitt, one of the other gurus of modern marketing, proposed that:
“the imaginative satisfaction of customer needs and wants, whether active or latent, should take over as the company’s driving force from the traditional approach of trying to sell whatever the company happens to produce”.
Two of the important keywords here are ‘imaginative’ and ‘latent’. While conventional market research often only identifies preferences between what already exists, imaginative marketing anticipates trends and identifies opportunities. This is one of the areas in which product designers have a role to play in marketing and technical research – to ask the ‘what if’ and ‘why not’ questions that can identify or create new products.
Technical research may focus on new methods or innovations, or may just review your competitors and look for opportunities to offer improved products to the market. It is crucial that such a review is conducted honestly and fairly, particularly where your strengths and weaknesses are concerned. Again, product designers can help with this process and help to facilitate an honest analysis of where your company's products currently stand in the market.
Reviews like this can be as simple as an afternoon spent brainstorming ideas or as complex as a detailed research project, but they are rarely time or money wasted.
Product designers have some unique qualifications to help with this kind of research. They are usually from outside the company, so can take a fresh look at the market; they will have worked on wide variety of products, involving ideas which may be relevant your products; and they have a useful combination of creative and practical skills which can help find new solutions and opportunities. Above all, they can facilitate communication between marketing and technical staff, solving one of the primary problems in any product development team.
This is a far cry from the stereotype of ‘designer as stylist’ and much closer to the all-round role of coordination and integration that the architect plays in the building process.