TBP’s 20th anniversary: the design research diaries 1993-2013 (Entry 6)


13 days to go until our 20th anniversary. Today’s dose – context is key.

It’s 13 days until our 20th anniversary, and in the countdown we’ve opened up our vaults to share our insights and musings on design and design research. Here’s number six – enjoy.

Entry 6 of 15: Context is key


You know you have a slightly odd job when you’re watching videos of people showering, but you’re focussing on how they’re holding the soap.

Domestos-Toilet-Cleaning-Original-Power-Bleach-With-CTAC-181680Design lives and dies in context. And so that’s the way that it should be tested. If you want to know how to design a baby bottle, you’ve got to know how baby bottles live in the reality of consumers’ lives (on a constant military-style rotation, if you’re wondering). If you need to understand the ergonomics of toilet bleach, don’t put a bottle of Domestos on a plinth and look at it – shove it in consumers’ hands and have them use it.

It applies not just to ergonomic design, but to graphic design, too.

Just as taking a quote out of context can change its meaning dramatically (“it’s amazing this director is still allowed to make films” = “amazing” for the poster), a misfiring design seen out of context may appear to be great.

When it comes to packaging, that means a shelf display that reflects the ‘visual noise’ of the over-stimulating shopping environment. Putting it up alongside its competitors to test how it works at the moment of truth. For brand identity, it should be explored on billboards, or on the side of a train, or on a bar towel … wherever it will be seen.

That’s the right way to test design, and that’s why we have those videos. Honest, guv.

By Stuart Chapman