Product Design, Aesthetics, and Consumer Research

Robert W. Veryzer, Jr., Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
[ to cite ]:
Robert W. Veryzer, Jr. (1995) ,"Product Design, Aesthetics, and Consumer Research", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 22, eds. Frank R. Kardes and Mita Sujan, Provo, UT : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 640.

Advances in Consumer Research Volume 22, 1995      Page 640


Robert W. Veryzer, Jr., Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute

Product design and aesthetics are important determinants of consumers' preferences and choices. Design and aesthetics are increasingly being used by companies as a way of differentiating products in order to successfully compete in a marketplace filled with products from around the world. The resurgence of product design and aesthetics as elements that are being employed to produce products which more fully satisfy consumer needs and provide a competitive advantage represents a return to a focus on the product component of the marketing mix. However, there is still much that is not understood concerning the relationship between design (inclusive of aesthetics) and consumers' responses to products (e.g., preference, choice, consideration set formation, fashion trends, etc.). Product design and aesthetics research is still in its infancy even though it has periodically received attention from consumer researchers as well as researchers in other disciplines. As yet, the scope and direction of this stream of research and its relationship to consumer research have not been clearly defined. The purpose of this special session was to explore the place of product design and aesthetics research in consumer research. Toward that end, papers were presented that covered a variety of product design and aesthetics topics and demonstrated different conceptual and methodological approaches to studying the influence of product design on consumer behavior. The session also provided a forum for critical evaluation and constructive thinking concerning design and aesthetics research.

This special session began with an introduction by Robert W. Veryzer, Jr., which provided a context and structure for the session. Many of his remarks were drawn from the paper "The Place of Product Design and Aesthetics in Consumer Research," which discusses the relationships between design, aesthetics, and consumer research and why the discipline of consumer research is uniquely suited for the study of these relationships. In the paper, a conceptualization of design that distinguishes between the different roles that design may play in the interaction between consumer and product is discussed. A framework for understanding and classifying objects (i.e., products) with respect to design and aesthetics is also presented and discussed.

In the second paper, "Aesthetic Aspects of the Consumption of Fashion Design: the Conceptual and Empirical Challenge," Molly Eckman and Janet Wagner review conceptual and empirical work on the aesthetics of fashion design. The authors then address some of the conceptual and methodological challenges facing consumer researchers. In addition, they identify factors that discourage research on fashion design such as cultural values, misunderstanding of fashion change, and the complexity of the relationship between fashion goods and the consumer. The authors conclude with suggestions for future research.

In the third paper, "Why Some Products 'Just Feel Right' or, the Phenomenology of Product Rightness" by Jeff Durgee and Gina Colarelli O'Conner, the possibility that there is a set of products that inspire a special feeling of "rightness" in consumers is explored using a phenomenological approach. The authors discuss their findings from interviews in which consumers were asked to respond to the question "What products feel right?" The authors report that product "rightness" seems to be associated with high functional value, versatility, prototypic life experiences, self-expressiveness, and instant satisfaction.

The final paper of the session, "The Role of Package Appearance in Choice" by Lawrence L. Garber, Jr., proposes a staged model of choice that explicitly considers the role of package appearance in the formation of the consideration set at the point of purchase. The model suggests that the formation of a visually oriented preattention/attention set precedes and affects formation of a subsequent product-benefits-oriented consideration set. The paper also discusses a series of proposed experiments utilizing computer-simulated shopping trips that will be used to test the model. Some preliminary data and results were presented and discussed in the session.

The discussant for this special session was Morris B. Holbrook, who offered a number of insightful comments to the presenters concerning their research. He also raised several important questions concerning the nature of (profound) aesthetic experience and the "products" to which such experience most applies. Some of the other issues that were discussed concerned whether or not there is anything "aesthetically" consistent across the product choices that people make and whether or not the study of aesthetics is, or should be, elitist.

The papers that were presented and discussed in this special session offer a number of interesting ideas and research insights. The authors of these papers committed to publishing in Advances in Consumer Research because these proceedings play an extremely important role in the dissemination of knowledge in our field. The proceedings provide an opportunity for researchers to present some of their emerging research ideas. These ideas represent new and often unexplored directions in consumer (or any other) research. It is hoped that the papers published here will promote a better understanding of product design and aesthetics and that they will serve to further stimulate research in these areas.