It's not unusual for aficionados to pay hundreds, sometimes thousands, of dollars for household products produced by Victorian, Beaux Arts or Art Deco craftspeople. The reason is pretty straightforward: now, as then, such pieces are as beautiful as they are functional.
Increasingly, says an MU scholar in the College of Business, consumers looking for contemporary products are demanding similar aesthetic achievement in the goods they purchase. Companies are responding, often at very affordable prices.
"Vegetable peelers, wireless phones, car-washing buckets and lawn tractors are all being designed with attention to the aesthetic value of their appearance," says professor of marketing Peter Bloch. "Although attempts to produce goods with attractive forms are nothing new, today we are seeing a widespread emphasis on product design unmatched since the Art Deco era of the 1930s."
As part of a multistage research project, Bloch has developed a scale to measure the impact of manufacturers' renewed product design emphasis. Dubbed the "centrality of visual product aesthetics" scale, the CPVA allows researchers to determine how consumers differ in the value they assign to product design and appearance. The scale also lets researchers evaluate shoppers' ability to recognize superior product design and examine the strength of consumer responses to design aesthetics.
"The CVPA reflects an enduring concern with the aesthetic benefits provided by a product," Bloch said. "The present research will not only fill gaps in our understanding of consumer preferences and reactions to design, but also has the potential to further our understanding of a number of seminal consumer behavior concepts." The ultimate goal, of course, is to help researchers and marketing managers better determine why it is consumers end up buying what they buy.
For now, Bloch's results, published in the Journal of Consumer Research, support the contention that a product's design does indeed play a critical role in persuading shoppers to purchase.
"Superior designs distinguish products from competitors and help gain recognition in a crowded marketplace," Bloch says. "They also have a symbolic function that influences how a product is comprehended and evaluated. Finally, it is the first thing about a product that connects with a potential buyer, and regardless of product class, judgments follow from this sensory experience."