Life at several design agencies has given me a diverse look at various types of companies and clients. I’ve seen different methodologies, varying appetite for risk, and many definitions of the word “innovation.” One area that has always been of interest to me is incorporating the voice of the consumer into the creative process—if, how, and when do we do that? The beauty of this question is that there’s no wrong answer. We all approach creative challenges in ways that map to our individual styles, so if it works for you, it’s not wrong. I’m an engineer turned designer, without formal training in consumer insights, but the consumer voice is something that has always found its way into my creative process. As in… “Wait, do I tell people what they want or are they supposed to tell me?” After working on countless projects and products, I’ve evolved several points that capture my thoughts on the topic:

Consumers only know what they know. Don’t expect them to articulate new ideas. Instead, listen to their thoughts to help you shape your ideas.

Don’t get lost in your own depth of knowledge. Use consumers’ voices as a way to step back and question yourself and see if you are truly mapping to their needs and wants.

Your interpretation and the value you place on insights are not always the same as for non-creatives. Be sure to share the story with other stakeholders—business leads, engineers, etc.—in ways that will gain their advocacy for the process.

Every project and objective is different—there isn’t one way to pull in the consumer voice. Be agile as opposed to formulaic.

Know when to leverage agencies to help drive consumer insight programs and augment internal perspectives. However, agency utilization and profitability objectives shouldn’t influence your process.

Don’t rely on consumers to validate your ideas—but consider their opinions to be a gut-check.

You are the visionary, but always keep an open mind. Draw from the outside world and consumer insights to inspire your own creativity and vision.

Peter Michaelian
Head of Design Dolby
San Francisco xCHANGE – Keynote Speaker