Founded in 1980, the company has since grown to 80 staff and has built up a behavioural research team of seven, whose job it is to study consumers’ behaviour in order to better design products. One of the company’s first projects was to redesign a cordless phone for US company Vtec.
‘We persuaded them to use behavioural research, even though they didn’t believe in it – I think we reworded it to the effect that if it wasn’t successful, we would write off all our research fees,’ recalls Pankhurst.
When the phone launched in the late 90s, it became the biggest selling phone in the US, but Pankhurst explains that it can still be a frustrating exercise to get clients to believe in the value of such research.
‘For example, the white goods industry can be obsessed with incremental improvements – such as energy efficiency and less water consumption – these are very difficult for the consumer to understand. When you follow people to point-of-sale, you understand how confused they are and how much they listen to the sales person. But it takes some persuading to get clients to invest in behavioural techniques – you are in a way criticising their brief.’
And although time-consuming (as part of a drive to design a better washing machine, the behavioural research team lived with families for several days, studying and recording their use of washing machines) Pankhurst believes that the method is well worth it. The outcome was a washing machine that loads at the front, like a dishwasher.
‘We team that understanding with our creative designers and engineers. We are now much more efficient at analysing data and coming up with solutions – behavioural research is about identifying unmet needs – giving you an idea of how to make people’s lives easier. It’s amazing how unimaginative the white goods industry can be!’