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Beware of Komar and Melamid


Here’s a statistic I’ve just made up: 90% of designers polled will tell you that if a job they’ve worked on fails in research, the methodology was deeply flawed. However if it sails through with flying colours, then the research was brilliantly conducted. If you’ve read Grayson Perry’s brilliant ‘Playing to the gallery’ you will be familiar with the conceptual artists Komar and Melamid. Their ‘People’s Choice’ series consisted of the “most wanted” and “most unwanted” paintings of 11 countries. These were the result of professionally conducted research in these countries, to see what was wanted from art. Which the artists duly painted.

The result, as Komar noted, was not very inspiring art made to order; “We have been traveling to different countries, engaging in dull negotiations with representatives of polling companies, raising money for further polls, receiving more of less the same results, and painting more or less the same blue landscapes. Looking for freedom, we found slavery.” There’s an easy point to score here about one paradox of research. Why do we conduct it? Presumably because marketers want to give the people what they want. The issue is the results can often be lacklustre. And so ironically, nobody wants them. Evidence of this might be found in the rule of thumb is that nine out of ten new product launches fail, despite all the research done along the way.

So what’s the solution? It would be an insult to the collective brainpower behind contemporary research to suggest one can improve things with a glib one liner. But perhaps it is the job of designers to fight. To keep on all the awkward edges and odd knobbly bits that research results tend to smooth off. Because at the end of the day it is by our differences that we are remembered, rather than by blending in seamlessly or appealing to the law of averages.



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