Adding beauty to market research

April 29, 2009

go on, do something different!

I’ve been reading various posts about market research and social media, which tend to focus on the usual self-hating stuff about the market research industry’s vulnerability.  I agree, pretty much:  some of the space that research took up is now being eaten away by other specialisms (data mining,  search engine optimisation, and web analytics), while the rest of what’s rightfully ours is taken by DIY tools such as SurveyMonkey.  (Can QualMonkey be far behind?)

Personally, I would argue that MR agencies have neglected to develop certain 21st-century skills in-house.   Market researchers tend to focus on data collection and analysis technology like Confirmit or SPSS  (if you’re lucky).

Things market researchers don’t bother with:  design.  Graphic design, web design, information design, whatever.   Design is right down at the bottom of the pile.   You buy it in, or you manage without it.

Researchers writing presentations huff over the latest critique of death-by-Powerpoint and insert a couple more company-approved clipart images into the 80-page deck.    Somewhere, a designer is weeping.

So.  If it were up to me,  I would not only run shedloads of training on statistics and experimental design, but I’d include these:

  • Essentials of graphic design
  • Digital photography
  • Photoshop
  • Using stock image libraries
  • Web design and an introduction to CSS

And if I were running a big research agency, I’d invest in some graphic designers and programmers to create some nifty and beautiful interfaces for running surveys and online communities.

Why shouldn’t people expect loveliness in a survey?

What skills would you like to see?

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{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

John Griffiths April 29, 2009 at 10:02 am

reading your blog is like listening to a cellist play 8-x


Alison April 29, 2009 at 10:16 am

Er. Um, thank you!! (I think!)


Tom April 29, 2009 at 10:05 am

In my previous job I was lucky enough to work with some really good on-house graphic designers who specialised in presentations, pitches and reports. They made the research so much more pleasurable to present and read – the only problem was that this didn’t seem to be reflected in the success rate of pitches! And some within the org were suspicious – complaining of a tendency to shallowness in highly visual presentations.

I do basically agree though – beauty is an underrated tool in research: when I look at the engaging presentations that come out of planning I shudder to think at how most researchers would present the same ideas.


Alison April 29, 2009 at 10:22 am

a tendency to shallowness in highly visual presentations

*nods* It can be shallow, but from working in web usability, it’s quite clear that the best interface combines an intelligent layout with an attractive appearance. The whole thing is aesthetically pleasing, and it works.

There’s a quiz I came across some time ago which I forgot to bookmark, that uses Flash quite beautifully. The business of completing the survey was a total pleasure. Of course, it was a meme-style quiz written for Myspace rather than U&A on shampoo, but still.


Stephen Hampshire April 29, 2009 at 10:21 am

Superb post, and I agree 100%. It’s not just MR though – I think communication is becoming increasingly important, and most industries are lagging behind where they need to be.

Using good design in MR presentations (and surveys – excellent and overlooked point, that) is precisely what I’m trying to do. It can be done without sacrificing detail or content…but sometimes it’s good to keep the graphic designers per se away from it. Edward Tufte or Stephen Few are better guides for us I think.


Robin Brown April 29, 2009 at 3:32 pm

Data visualization techniques and design have made enormous progress in other areas …but, yes, sadly not MR. Still tied to Powerpoint.


kevin May 14, 2009 at 3:38 pm

totally agree with your points … and share your sense of mystification at JG’s comment, which was like a penny whistle ..;)

I once attempted to give a debrief presentation using pictures only (mainly photos what I took) but it was a bit tricky, sometimes words are needed



Kathryn Korostoff May 16, 2009 at 11:48 am

Great points, and I completely agree with you.

I ran an agency for 13 years, and we always made a point of having at least 3 or 4 “money slides” (crass, but it made the point). These were particularly visually appealing slides that A) told a story and B) added some “wow” impact. These were the slides that made clients feel they got their money’s worth. I was lucky enough to have on my team an amazing admin with a graphic arts background, and later, an analyst with natural talent/passion for PPT. But the rest of us struggled with design. So I agree, training is in order!!


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wendym19 September 5, 2009 at 12:44 am


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