The relationship between design and market research may not be immediately obvious. As a data-driven industry, we love to get our heads into the nitty-gritty detail of the findings and come up with evidence-based ways to solve our clients’ problems. Design can often be an afterthought in this process, secondary to our objective to deliver great research.
To view design in this way is a mistake. If we only turn to design once we have drawn our conclusions, we are missing out on an opportunity to utilise design to enhance our analysis. Considering the principles of design from an early stage helps us to filter through the data and create stronger, more effective deliverables.
To harness the benefits of design in our day-to-day work, there are several design principles that we can consider as we share our research:
The order in which you present the content you want to include is known as hierarchy. As you would see in a newspapers and magazine, the information which is presented in the largest font size is intended to grab the reader’s attention and draw them to the piece of work. It is therefore often the most important point and typically captures the key message of the overall story.
By deciding which information we want the reader to notice first, we are making a choice about what we believe to be the most important takeaway from the research. This is central to our analysis and shows how we can utilise design to demonstrate our expertise.
Alignment refers to the positioning of different items on a page relative to one another. To show a relationship between these items, you may wish to align them symmetrically to create a sense of balance.
When showing responses to a question where several factors are at play, you could use alignment to show how these factors relate to each other, perhaps showing that they have equal weighting by placing them all in row. Alternatively, you could use asymmetrical alignment to demonstrate the different roles that factors play in a decision, or to show how some factors are more interlinked than others.
Perhaps the most aesthetically focussed principle of this list, consistent design makes your data intelligible to the reader. An inconsistent design which uses different fonts in numerous colours can distract from the data you are sharing and take away from the message you are trying to share.
A consistent design should facilitate the reader’s understanding, providing as few obstacles as possible to them being able to process the information you are sharing. Working on getting this right across a lengthy report may seem arduous, but it will support you in your efforts to deliver a clear and consistent message to your audience.
4. White space
After weeks upon weeks of collecting interesting and good quality data, it can be tempting to try to cram it all into your final deliverables to demonstrate all the good work you have done. Like inconsistent design, an overcrowded design becomes impossible to process. By too much information in a design, you risk your audience retaining no information as your reader struggles to take anything in and remember what you have shown.
Particularly if you are using visual aids whilst speaking, you want to ensure that your audience’s attention remains on what you are communicating. Using a single image or statistic and leaving the rest of the page blank keeps your message focussed and makes it abundantly clear what you are guiding your audience towards. Additional pieces of information which serve as an accessory to the key message can be confusing and may end up becoming an unwanted discussion point as your audience notices something unexplained on the page which is outside of what you are telling them.
There is a time and place for this information – perhaps in an extended version of the report to be shared following a presentation – but do think carefully about how you include it and the effect it might have. Use white space to your advantage to keep the message on track.
Design is a valuable part of any market researcher’s toolkit. If considered during the process of drawing research findings together, it can elevate data analysis. It can also be used strategically as a communication tool to ensure that your message hits home. It is in no way a veneer to good quality market research, but rather a stepping stone to it, bringing us closer to our goal to deliver great insights to our clients.