Designers and Researchers Collaborate

Integrate Designers into Your Research Process for Spectacular Brand Design

“So, the focus groups hated the color green and they thought the typeface was too weird,” the brand manager told the designer. Ugh.

It’s no big secret that many designers are wary of research—no one likes having their work dissected by consumers, or having to water down their concepts based on consumer feedback. But, choosing a new brand design based solely on our intuition or in response to a competitor’s move is risky. Of course, sometimes you get lucky, but other times you might miss the mark—an expensive and frustrating experience for everyone involved.

The truth is, research is critical to the design process and can be used to elevate good ideas into great ideas, making your branding even more compelling. It can assess consumer perceptions and desires, helping designers efficiently guide their concepts from inception to completion. The very best design firms and branding agencies know how to use research insights to develop inspired, memorable work that really resonates with consumers.

Designers and Researchers CollaborateIntegrate your design and research teams for a collaborative approach that yields spectacular results. These three easy steps will put you on the right track to get the most out of every research dollar and inspire your design team to greater heights.


The research team can be a designer’s ultimate ally when developing effective, creative branding. From the earliest planning stages, the creative team should participate in the research process.

  • Before embarking on a new project, the design, marketing and research teams should collaborate to identify the branding and packaging issues to investigate, including the ‘brand story,’ its equity elements, and possible emotional triggers.
  • Bring the left and right brains together for consumer testing whenever possible. While marketing professionals understand the competitive landscape, and researchers know how to elicit the right information from consumers, designers bring something different to the table. They offer a unique perspective, and are able to read between the lines and pick up subtle signals others might overlook. You’ll emerge from testing with a clearer, deeper understanding of what consumers want and need.
  • Designers should be present during consumer testing—nothing compares to hearing first-hand insights and comments from consumers themselves. Going to a focus group offers invaluable opportunities for designers to ask questions in real time, to uncover connections that might resonate with consumers, and to hear consumers speak in their own words.


Research is always nice to have, but getting the information at the right time in the design process is key. There are three stages at which designers can benefit from consumer insights:

  • Pre-Design – to clarify strategy Before the creative group begins working on a project, the marketing and research teams should outline what works/doesn’t work with a particular brand. Research allows designers to identify the “white space” in the competitive set, discover brand strengths and weaknesses, determine equity elements in the current design to leverage in package redesign, and ultimately understand what consumers want to see on packaging (such as regions of origin or vintage information in wine and spirits packaging design). Getting these key insights early on allows the design team to narrow their focus and create more on-target concepts from the get-go.
  • In Development – to identify the best solution Sharing preliminary concepts with consumers helps your team identify which concepts best meet consumers’ needs and engage them emotionally. The feedback gathered at this stage gives your design team constructive guidance for refining and developing the most promising ideas.
  • Pre-Production – to validate the final design To get the most out of validation testing, have your design firm create accurate comps to share with consumers. Research can then be conducted in a realistic shopping context to get authentic feedback from consumers. Ideally, designers will be present to hear comments first-hand from consumers. Afterwards, the marketing and research teams can together determine the final changes that need to be made before the packaging goes into production.


  • Designers are used to hearing critiques and using feedback as a springboard for new ideas. It’s important to use consumer insights to inform creative development – not as a prescription for design.
  • It’s the research team’s job to discover what the problems are, but not to hand over the problem solving to consumers. Trust your designer to understand the consumers’ objections or desires, and find fresh, compelling ways to address them.
  • Consumers are creatures of habit, and are most likely to respond best to ideas that are familiar. As marketing professionals, we all need to listen between the lines and look beyond the tried-and-true to find new ways to engage and inspire consumers. We need to let consumer insights help us find a way to take a familiar idea, and spin it in a fresh way.


The very best creative work is done when the design team is well informed about consumers’ needs, and the strengths and weaknesses of a particular brand. To develop breakthrough, effective branding and to get the most out of your research dollars, get your designers involved from the very beginning, give them the right tools at the right time, and use consumer insights to guide the creative process, not control it. Not only will you end up with a better branding solution, but you’ll also enjoy a more collaborative, mutually satisfying experience—it’s a win-win for everyone involved.



What does stand-up comedy have in common with design research? Both rely on finding a basic truth that has been ignored or forgotten and then revealing that truth in a new and unexpected way. For an insightful spin on the role of research in design innovation, check out this article.

What would Don Draper do? This Mad Men clip made me chuckle. Watch a fun video here.

Integrate Designers into Your Research Process for Spectacular Brand DesignSterling Creativeworks

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