Designers who do excellent research will not waste time pursuing directions that are not viable, and the team will have qualitative or quantitative documentation validating their aesthetic choices. This will save valuable time during the client approval process. Research can provide another billable service and modify business roles from designer to design consultant. In addition to the tools previously outlined for students and educator use, any of the methods discussed in the first two chapters can be tailored to fit the needs of small firms or individuals. Here are some examples to get you started.
Color + Visualization
There are a number of resources—from expensive to open source—that can provide color guidance to the designer. Pantone, Inc., an industry leader, offers several professional services and can be retained to assist with color ideation and color validation, as well as application across media (from Web to print to textile to manufacturing). Designers can also join professional associations, such as the Color Marketing Group, that are focused on color and its application to the world of visual communication. On an annual basis, Communication Arts magazine profiles color trends for the upcoming year. Design powerhouse IDEO has developed the Web Color Visualizer, which allows the user to compare Web-safe color combinations applied to text and backgrounds in the click of a mouse. This tool can be used when browsing their website.22 Color Schemer offers a range of current schemes, along with software and free online tools for selecting color palettes.
Designers should familiarize themselves immediately with a client's corporate literature at the outset of a project. Reviewing the literature of the competition can be helpful as well. Information about the competitor's brand, messaging, and media strategy are all useful. Valuable insight can be gained by determining where the competition is allocating marketing dollars. For example, if a competitor is advertising in a particular magazine, call that journal and ask for a media kit. This kit will provide demographic information about the magazine's distribution, as well as a financial breakdown of advertising costs—perhaps revealing the competition's target focus.
Partnering with a market research firm to conduct primary demographic or psychographic research can prove to be a valuable investment. Information gathered here, when paired with other research tools, will provide objective and accurate data on the target audience for the project. If timelines or budgets do not allow for outsourcing primary demographic or psychographic research, a great deal of data may be collected from secondary sources. Often, corporations have employed these investigations for alternate purposes and have the data archived. Be sure to ask your client for access to any relevant statistical documentation. For example, a social services client may have conducted demographic research for a ballot issue—this same information might also be relevant to the thematic direction and design of their annual report.
To be most effective, design firms or freelancers should work with trained ethnographers who have the professional background to interpret their observations and interviews objectively. Should financial constraints preclude partnering with an ethnographer, small firms can send members of their team out to do field research. Then triangulate the notes, observations, and interviews of each individual to determine apparent truths. Previous ethnographic studies of common subjects can also be reviewed. This secondary research may be a part of the literature review process.