Steve Portigal's got a couple of perfect bookends in Interactions Magazine (and online), looking at the implications of design without research, and vice versa. The essays are packed with anecdotes and insights, and as with most of Steve's pieces, will provide delight and encouragement to all flavors of design practitioner. Here's a choice bit:
I used to think there was a certain class of company for which "design for yourself" would work: Companies founded (and staffed) by enthusiasts for products like pro-audio gear, mountain bikes, or camping gear. Those companies tend to brand themselves as active participants who know what an extreme backpacker or serious dirt rider or gigging bass player would need. By extension, they hope customers will perceive their products as authentic and high quality. But I had my eyes opened a few months ago in a conversation with Steve Brown, head of design and user experience at Nortel, and formerly a partner at Fiori Product Development. Steve suggested that this approach may be fine for an entrepreneur who is starting a company, but he has seen many larger companies who believed they were the customer and were thus unable to innovate because they couldn't see the market differently.
While user-research--eschewing Apple is everyone's poster child for "design for yourself," I find Harley-Davidson to be a more compelling example (although I may be comparing Apple(s) and oranges). At Harley, Willie G. Davidson is the grandson of the original Davidson. Senior vice president and chief styling officer, he is known as Willie G. And he looks exactly like a guy who rides a Harley: big, bearded, and leather-clad. If we judge a bike by its fairing, the designer is the customer. That's part of the Harley brand: In a recent Harley-Davidson annual report, executives appear next to their bikes, and we know that they all ride. A crucial part of Willie G.'s role is to preserve the legacy of the brand; the company communicates that it is (and always has been) part of the culture for which it's designing. People at Harley, we believe, use the products and live the lifestyle. But underneath it all is a sense that Harley-Davidson, through its history, has created the brand (i.e., the products and their meaning) in partnership with its customers. For all the tribal connectedness Apple has facilitated, the company itself is not a participant. It is a benefactor.
Allan Chochinov is a partner of Core77, a New York-based design network serving a global community of designers and design enthusiasts, and Chair of the new MFA in Products of Design graduate program at the School of Visual Arts in New York City. Allan lectures around the world and at professional conferences including IDSA, AIGA and IxDA, has been a guest critic at various design schools in including Yale University, IIT, Carnegie Mellon, Ravensbourne, RMIT, University of Minnesota, Emily Carr, and RISD. He has moderated and led workshops and symposia at the Aspen Design Conference, the Rockefeller Center at Bellagio, Compost Modern, and Winterhouse, and is a frequent design competition juror. Prior to Core77, his work in product design focused on the medical, surgical, and diagnostic fields, as well as on consumer products and workplace systems. He has been named on numerous design and utility patents and has received awards from The Art Directors Club, I.D. Magazine, Communication Arts, and The One Club.