Customer or Consumer, Who are You really Designing for?

Many of us have been taught in design school to be very user focused when seeking design solutions. However if you have been in the industry as long as I have, there is this insidious sickness that tends to influence this fundamental approach we have with design.
The reason is that the majority of brands or products are sold to “customers” or channels rather than directly to the ultimate consumer. These “customers” include distributors, sales organizations and retailers etc. As a result, you can get a number of odd requests to design products that have only one aim and that is to make the lives of these “middle men easier. We designers need to be constantly aware and sensitive to this influence.
Some of these requests could include: “design everything to fit in the front because when it is placed on the shelf you can’t see the back”, or perhaps “forget about spending money on the packaging because the product is not sold in the box”, or the ever popular “make it taller/bigger/wider because everyone else is like that”. The list goes on, but the basis of these requests usually comes as a response to some kind of retail strategy that often contradicts with the needs of the ultimate consumer.
At the end of the day though, I belief that a successful product has to fulfill all requirements of the brief including these retail needs. So designers will need to reconcile this problem by both keeping in mind the original design intent and aligning it with the consumer’s needs.
I like to now leave you with a quote a clever marketer told me:

If consumers do not want our products, it would not matter how great our customers are in their jobs. However, if every consumer wants or demands our products, no customer can stand in our way.

4 Comments
  • George I

    October 9, 2009 at 9:27 pm Reply

    Dude, TOTALLY – it’s probably true more in the toy business than in any other. Planogram and shelf impact is huge, and while we need to be aware of it, does definitely interfere with what we’d hear from consumers in focus groups.

  • Denise Lee Yohn

    October 17, 2009 at 10:33 am Reply

    it’s too bad that some retailers/distributors impede sales — their direct interactions with the end consumer should make them consumer experts, bringing insights to manufacturers/designers about how to improve the product in order to enhance the purchase decision process

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