Better Research by Design

Once you’ve found a research partner and worked together to figure out what kinds of questions you need to ask and how quickly you need them answered, it’s time to start designing your market research. Research design refers to the overall strategy you choose to combine and present different components of the study in a coherent, logical way, thereby ensuring you will effectively address the problem at hand. Think of your design as your blueprint for collecting, measuring, and ultimately analyzing data.

While your design strategy will vary according to what your objectives are, there are certain aspects that are elemental to almost any research experience. In broad terms, those qualities are the color, content, and composition of your study presentation. Design is fundamentally an aesthetic experience, so we’ll explore these components for their visual impact, and how you can leverage them to improve respondent engagement, stimulate thoughtful feedback, and ultimately uncover richer insights.


Color plays an important role in how respondents process your study, so learning and applying a little bit of color theory could greatly impact your research. For example, one reason so many fast food joints stick to reds and yellows is because they subconsciously stimulate appetite and excitement, inducing customers to eat quicker and spend more. On the other hand, research firms (yours truly included) tend towards blues and greys, probably because they convey intelligence and neutrality.

The emotions elicited by reactions to color are worth considering when designing your research, if only because a bland, colorless study will surely bore your participants. Avoid intense hues that distract and influence, and pay attention to contrast when overlapping colors and text. You can also employ color to help distinguish answer choices from one another in a survey, or to draw attention to sidebar details and/or question-specific instructions.


Perhaps the most helpful way to think of your research design is like a recipe: it provides the ingredients and instructions to successfully carry out your study. And if you’ve ever tried to follow a recipe, you know it’s important to pay just as much attention to the instructions as to the ingredients. In other words, taking the time to verify that any instructions in your study are clear, concise, and unambiguous will help to ensure your respondents know just what you need from them.

A great place to start is your statement of objectives, which outlines why the research project is being conducted in the first place. All the context and direction for the study should be encapsulated in that statement, so refer to your objectives to determine if an image or word choice helps tell that story. The categories we impose on our experiences are shaped by our language, thereby influencing our thinking and memory, so keep a careful eye on word choice and potential for ambiguity.


Now that you know all your content can be processed for optimal understanding, it’s time to ensure its visual presentation does the same. Particularly when it comes to stimuli, researchers should consider the potential effects that shape, font, and patterns could have on their respondents and subsequent results. Different media come with their own best practices, so be sure you’ve reviewed all the requirements and features to ensure optimal presentation and comprehension.

Additionally, try to leverage the visual hierarchy of your study content to draw the reader’s attention where you want it to go. Visual hierarchy is the art of prioritizing content and organizing design elements in a way that guides your audience’s eyes from one element to the next. When designing your study, predetermine where you want your audience to look first, then second, and so on. It doesn’t require some fancy tech or platform either; all it takes is accessing the mentality of those who will encounter your research. Strategizing your respondents’ attention through content composition will help not only draw attention where it’s needed, but also make your study look more interesting, and intuitive too.

When designing your research, taking the time to evaluate its aesthetic and instructional components could be the difference between actionable consumer insights and directionless data. And to learn how to also incorporate respondent-engaging methodology into your qualitative research design, check out the eGuide on projective techniques below.

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