Business of Design #2: Research & Analysis

(Note: This is the thought process of a designer who is utterly clueless when it comes to business and turning ideas into cash. The following is his best attempt at it. Start from Part 1 here.) According to World Urbanization Prospects by United Nations, statistic shows an average of 10% yearly growth in people migrating into urban cities. China alone has 200million people moved from the rural areas to the cities since 1990. As the demographic shifts to the young professionals of the Millennails under the age of 30, densely populated cities like New York, Boston, Seattle, San Francisco, Hong Kong, Shanghai and Singapore see the supply of micro apartments as an affordable housing alternative. 

Market Research & Analysis 

A recent report by (Urban Land Institute, 2014) (United States) states that the target market for small aprtement units is predominantly young professional singles, typically under 30 years of age, with most under 27 years of age, trending slightly more male than female. Most potential micro-unit renters earn less than $40,000 a year. In addition to the youthful and mostly unattached core market, other segment markets including downsizing (single) empty-nesters, some couples and the pied-à-terre crowd who own/rent elsewhere and use the apartments as crash pads. . The report also shares further information on why the development of newly termed- ‘micro studio’ is millennials-perfect. The Great Recession has had a disproportionately large impact on millennials, with unemployment among the under-30 set nearly double that of older members of the labor force. Gen-Yers have significantly lower incomes and much higher student loan debt loads, and therefore less disposable income to spend on things like expensive apartments. All of this has contributed to delayed household formation and delayed marriage among members of the millennial generation. And for others, the choice of a minimalist lifestyle is appealing and deliberate because of their desire to reduce their footprint on the environment, or simply to spend less time and expense on property maintenance. .

The new flats developed through New York City’s pilot micro-housing program, “adAPT NYC” are cater for dwellers to live, sleep and work. Micro apartment models now are gearing towards communal design where kitchen and living quarters are shared among the residents. (Ferro, 2015) This is a plus point as the product can grow within the community. .In 2011, IKEA launched a campaign ‘Small Spaces’, which examines how space efficiency can improve our life at home with multifunctional furniture and a wide range of smart solutions for everyday space problems. Sales has steadily increased year by year and it was by 3.1% in 2013 to EUR 27.9 billion ($36.2 billion*) and the IKEA Group gained market share in almost all markets. While sales grew 5.9 percent in 2014 over the prior year overall, e-commerce sales rose 35 percent. Ikea is investing in its shipment services, and made 40 percent more home deliveries in the U.S. last year. 

Referring to IBISWorld research, IKEA’s online competitiors, Williams-Sonoma, Wayfair and have a combined 42 percent of all online furniture sales. Online furniture sales are predicted to reach over $14.2 billion by 2019, up from $10 billion in 2014. Clearly, efficiency is something these urban dwellers are after. Efficiency in tight space planning. Efficiency in time and speed by click and order system.

(From designer’s perspective) Seeing a rise of trend in micro living, observe many medias highlighting on multifunctional furniture to maximise small living spaces. When we talk about living, light is unmissable. I began to question, “If furniture were to transform a space from a living room to a bedroom, shouldn’t light be able to respond to that change to accommodate our mood and needs?”

(From light manufacturer’s perspective) I have this new technology call OLED. It is better than LED. It is as thin as paper, flexible too, energy efficient, bright with no glare, dimmable and programmable. Who will be my early adopters? How can I market this product?
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I find the logic of bringing them together as I believe that the growth of technological innovation is parallel to the evolution of socio-cultural environment.  There has been a wide range of multifunctional furniture. Mostly are build in and bespoke to the space. There is also a huge community of IKEA Hackers, who creatively combine or intervene different IKEA products to fit individual’s need. However, there isn’t many innovative multifunctional lighting in the market yet. A light that can provide intensities and color rendering for different moods and activities. Most latest LED lamps can serve that purpose. But still, the lamp does not possess the flexibility in function. My proposed lighting concept is made of memory alloy body, which allows bending the arm of the lamp to direct the light. The pendant shade that holds the OLED panel is made of shape retaining polymer, which also allows bending the panel to make convex form (widespread light), concave (focused area) or flat (general lighting). The arm contains an extendable cable within for height adjustment or use it as a torch.
1st Insights and Reflections
Collecting external market data is to achieve in depth information on the prospects. It takes observation and imagination to find the target segment. Sometimes it takes really good judgement based on few hard facts as there is no 100% right. Other than knowing how people use light and behave in small spaces, research should also look into what other activities and interest they are into, for example, urban farming and IKEA Hacks. The product can then finds its community and grow by generating contents that resonate with them. It takes a little effort to discover the core necessity for the product to exist and then dig deeper into the segment.
IDEO’s Ethnography Research in Product Development
I am not so convinced by the research methodologies used in the field of marketing. It seems to me that they are trend followers than trend settlers. Yes, it is definitely useful when it comes to finding the product viability in the market. To come out with something at the forefront, I strongly believe in IDEO’s ethnographic methodology, which has been practiced within their Product Development team since 1995, as key user-centered input to design process. I shall stress that this is however just one of the many research techniques.
The objective is to utilise ethnography in order to access subjective values and latent user needs, and to combine this information with more traditional usability techniques to inform product concepts. Macdonald (1998) professed that the objective nature of traditional methods has not given the human factors specialists a language to explore and express such ideas. And ethnography may help too alleviate this problem in providing them a tool that will enable them to explore and express the more subjective and emotional experience of product use.
Stakeholders are introduced to a new product concept by creating scenarios and role-plays in order to actively generate user requirements. Ethnography provides a method that is able to access users’ latent needs through interaction with an analogous product, or by encouraging people to think about their sub-conscious behaviour as they perform their everyday activities in the presence of the researcher. (Taylor, Bontoft, Flyte, 2002)
Many Perfection, One True Happiness
One of the advantages of using ethnography to generate user requirements is its ability to uncover the (frequently sub-conscious) ‘say/do’ dichotomy. As Miller (1998) states ‘we are constantly faced with everyday discrepancies between what people say matters to them, and what they actually give their attention to’. Malcom Galdwell brought up the topic of the pursuit to finding the perfect spaghetti sauce by Howard Moskowitz in his year 2007’s TED talk. When asked what kind of spaghetti sauce you want, most people give ’the traditional italian way’, which according to Howard, it actually only consists of 25 to 27%. Some people like extra garlic, some like chunky cheesy, some like mushroomy and so on. It is by embracing diversity of human being through horizontal segmentation in product that can ultimately achieve true happiness.
2nd Insights and Reflections
In the midst of this process, I shamely realised that how our design education is broken. How the module is suggesting us to produce a marketing plan for our design product is a misleading methodology. As far as I have learnt about marketing, market research should be included from the very beginning of the project, the data collected is to aid product development and not finding a rationale for final design product, which is what I am doing now. (Not advisable for future project.) Arguably, the product – Brim Lamp is developed from a core necessity and solutions are formulated for the contemporary social landscape. (At least that is the genesis of the design.) But it is lacking in the depth of user research. This mix of introspection and research has informed slight updates on my design.
Customer and market insights are important for building customer value and relationships, these insights can be very hard to acquire. Consumer needs and buying behavior are vague. They can’t tell you exactly what they need and why they buy, hence interviews alone may not be as efficient to obtain key customer insight. Effective information have to come from a wide range of sources, namely survey, blogs, social media, reports, situational research and focus group observationsRetrieving all these information may cost a lot when trends or insight reports are to be purchased. It is also time-consuming, companies like Unilever even set up a Consumer and Market Insights division, now commonly known as data miners, to assist their brand teams in harvesting information and turn it into customer insights. All these work are worth it for a line-up of successful products.

1. Urban Land Institute (2014) The Macro View on Micro-Units. Washington: Urban Land Institute. Available from: [Accessed on 1st May 2015]

2. Ferro, S. (2015) 5 Trends That Will Shape The Futrue of Tiny Housing. New York: Fast Company. Available from [Accessed on 10th February 2015]

3. Ferro, S. (2015) 6 Major Design Trends Shaping City Life In 2015. New York: Fast Company. Available from [Accessed on 10th February 2015]

4. Alaimo, D. (2015) Ikea Makes Belated Move to Online Sales. Available from [Accessed on 2nd May 2015]

5. Taylor, K., Bontoft, M., Flyte, M.G. (2002) Using Video Ethnography to Inform and Inspire User-Centered Design. In: Green, W. S,, Jordan, P. W. (ed.) Pleasure With Products: Beyond Usability. London: Taylor & Francis, 175-187.

6. Gladwell, M. (2007) Choice, Happiness and Spaghetti Sauce. TED Talk. Available from [Accessed on 5th March 2015]

7. Kotler, P., Harris, L., Piercy, N. & Armstrong, G. (2013) Principles of Marketing. Harlow: Pearson.


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