Understanding Your Audience

by Dionne Aiken

“… every client, partner, or stranger is someone to learn from. … listen before assuming. … seek to understand the historical, geographical, social, cultural, and economic context and precedent before beginning the design process.”  This quote from industrial designer and writer Emily Pilloton came to mind when I attended an AIGA event last Thursday.

Last Thursday, James Biber an architect with Pentagram, spoke about his work on designing the Harley Davidson Museum.  Before tackling the design, extensive research was done to understand the “cultural anthropology” of Harley.  Beauty, performance, functionality and style:  these words describe the heritage of Harley as well as the resulting museum.

The museum is a beautiful display of history and stories from exhibitions of bikes lined up in a row telling the story of the company’s first 50 years, to the construction and anatomy of the bikes themselves.

There’s even a bike gallery where you can mount a Harley and enjoy a video about the American open road and the camaraderie of riding.

The museum provides visitors an engaging, interactive experience that takes them into the heart and soul of Harley Davidson as a company.  Inside and out, the spirit of Harley Davidson is omnipresent and felt in every aspect of the design.

Another example of industrial design that embodies this phenomenon of cultural anthropology is the new Facebook building designed by Studio O+A.

Prior to their new office building, O+A interviewed Facebook employees (scattered over 10 different locations) to gain an understanding of what makes the company tick.  Facebook wanted its new headquarters to reflect its values:  freedom of expression, individuality and creativity.  The end result was a youthful, dynamic work environment with open spaces for meetings and gatherings balanced by its unique partitions.

The trendy cafe serves meals around the clock.  Their signature “crane table” is a work surface suspended from a hoist to form a table that swings in any direction.

Studio O+A understood who they were designing for.

Understanding your audience is an integral part of successful design … and business, in general.  Just as Starbucks converted an everyday feedback mechanism into an idea generator on their My Starbucks Idea site we should continue to look to our audience for valuable information in finding design and business solutions.

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