Faster Horses: Going Beyond Market Research

The term Voice of the Customer, and associated "research" that accompanies it, often concerns me. While it is essential that we understand the customer in all ways possible, there are many other techniques in design research that need to be implemented to accomplish this.

Dan Formosa

Simply listening to the customer isn't nearly sufficient. Maybe it would be if the name of this site was "Medical Packaging" – we can possibly improve an existing package or product if we simply ask people their thoughts. But the name of this site is "Medical Packaging Innovation." Remember the "faster horses" quote from Henry Ford? He opted not to ask people what they wanted because that would not have been their response, not "cars."

Voice of the Customer can provide us with a snapshot, thoughts and perceptions, and current opinions stuck in time. It's one piece of a large puzzle, and may simply show us the preconceptions we may be up against when our newest innovation will be introduced. Very often popular opinions may even run counter to truly innovative ideas. Note that in 2004 no one was asking for a mobile phone without buttons -- or thinking it was going to be a popular idea.

Simply asking people their opinions will rarely by itself lead to innovation. That's our job -- and it's going to take a lot more work than that. Opinion-taking is a marketing research technique. Innovation requires design research, along with quite a bit of vision and the willingness to enter some unknown territory.

If only innovation were as easy as asking.

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Dan Formosa, Ph.D.

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