(Pack)DesignDecoding: an intelligent way to make the effect of design visible

Image of Fabienne Hübener
Fabienne Hübener

isi DesignDecoding enables companies to develop the (packaging) design of their products faster and in a more consumer-centric way.

isi DesignDecoding is a method developed jointly by isi and Prof. Bastian Beate to decode the effect of design and thus make products better. It enables companies to make design decisions more confidently and quickly - both for packaging and in the field of industrial design. "Design decisions often feel like you have to make them based on your gut. Intuition has its place, but with the help of objective analyses and consumer research, we provide a foundation for adapting product design even more reliably to the wishes of the target group," explains Bastian Beate, designer and professor of design methodology and design fundamentals at Osnabrück University of Applied Sciences.

Foto Achim

"The goal of Design Decoding is to uncover the secret relationships between controllable design parameters and the meaning consumers derive from them or their overall composition - the gestalt." (Joachim Haag, isi Managing Director)

--- > Meet Joachim Haag in a short video and learn about the isi mission.

The Missing Link in Product Development

The idea for DesignDecoding was born 15 years ago. "A design manager of a large company asked us for support because, in his view, the design development of his product portfolio was not sufficiently systematic," recalls Joachim Haag. Those involved were discussing the design "on a gut level," the manager found, and asked, "Don't you have tools for us that we can use to find out which design elements we use to trigger which associations in people?"

Joachim Haag and Bastian Beate were only too happy to take up the question. "As a designer, I had always wished to have more tools for translating design elements into their effects," reports Beate. In the meantime, DesignDecoding is part of a proven service offering from isi and is successfully used for electrical household appliances, consumer electronics and FMCG packaging. Here's how it works.

OEQC9506Die Bluetooth speakers in theDecoding lab. The isi MotifWheel supports the analysis.

Classic market research goes decoding

The starting point is to define a selection of designs from the relevant subject area. This can be the "competitive landscape on the German washing machine market", but also a series of design drafts created by a design agency for a new smoothie packaging. It is important here to capture the diversity of design possibilities, because it is important for the subsequent decoding.

Decoding step 1 then begins: In qualitative consumer workshops, a group of consumers classifies the variants according to various subjective perception dimensions. The group answers important questions for the client such as: Which packaging seems most natural, which conveys the most "fruity enjoyment"? This basically corresponds to classic market research. However, DesignDecoding goes one step further.

In step 2, the insights gained from the consumer workshops go to a team of trained design experts who, under the guidance of an experienced decoder, decipher why which features lead to which associations. To do this, the design team objectively analyzes the various design elements. For example: How much space does the typeface take up? How pronounced are the color and material contrasts? How does the bottle feel in the hand? What sound is made when it is opened?

Gaining knowledge through objectivity

The objective findings of the expert analysis are then combined with the subjective results of the consumer survey. This results in a kind of lexicon of design language, a so-called design code framework, which is tailored precisely to this product and the client brand. The framework is a kind of translation aid that helps product or packaging designers understand contexts and make even more conscious design decisions. For example: Which bottle shapes most strongly convey "plump fruitiness"? Which surface haptics do consumers most associate with "naturalness & sustainability"? Those who have the decoding of a design in their hands can also make changes to the design more confidently.

Whereas previously market research had to be carried out again for each further variation in the design, design decoding allows the effect of changes to be predicted. The company can further develop the design of the product in a more targeted manner. "The point of DesignDecoding is not to develop a final design, to pick the winner among the design variants, so to speak," emphasizes Bastian Beate. "It is more important to use the decoding key to become more confident in further design decisions."


Security, indulgence, adventure, discipline? DesignDecoding investigates which motives are addressed by which design elements.

Going deeper: the quantitative approach

The approach described above is the "fast qualitative approach" of design decoding. It takes only a few days and is suitable, for example, for initiating directional decisions in the design process. For companies that want to delve even deeper into the world of product and brand-specific design development, isi also offers quantitative, statistically based approaches. In this case, the design variants are sent to larger samples of usually 150-200 consumers. Selected tests from the isi toolbox can then be used to answer even more specific questions.
For example, it is possible to determine detailed association profiles for different designs using isi ImplicitTesting. Implicit procedures have the advantage that they reveal rather unconscious assessments. They are therefore sometimes more meaningful than explicit procedures, which rely on written or spoken responses. If these association profiles are linked statistically with the objective descriptions of design experts, the resulting model provides even deeper insights than the qualitative approach described above.

Foto Bastian"Basically, DesignDecoding is an empathic process. I dive deep into the consumer's mind. Afterwards, I approach design with different eyes and make more confident and conscious design decisions." (Prof. Bastian Beate, Osnabrück University of Applied Sciences)


Develop empathy for the consumer

The feedback after a DesignDecoding reflects the success of the method. For example, company design teams report that they subsequently approach design differently, more strongly from the consumer's point of view. Stakeholders in the companies report back that communication between designers and non-designers is now much easier. The new common language and increased confidence make for smoother development processes within the company. "DesignDecoding creates more successful products. The companies see that, too," Bastian Beate sums it up.

Which products would Joachim Haag and Bastian Beate particularly like to help make successful with the help of DesignDecoding? "Whether it's a car, a cell phone or a hat, everything is exciting for me, because I'm primarily interested in the process itself," says Bastian Beate. "We are actually open to everything," adds Joachim Haag. "I would be particularly attracted to bringing innovative sustainable products from start-ups forward with DesignDecoding."


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