How to conduct design research

How to Conduct Design Research When You're Going Through a Re-Brand

Those who know me best know that I have lots of feelings about trends or fads.

(And really, I have lots of feelings about everything, but that’s a topic for a different Blog post that I won’t bore you with.)

From design, to fashion, to home décor, I always err on the side of timelessness and personality-appropriateness.

For example, ripped jeans and boots will ALWAYS be a staple in my closet. It worked for me in the 90’s and hell, it works for me now, too.

But, when we talk about visual design, it’s easy to get seduced into thinking ONLY about the latest trendy aesthetics for the sake of aesthetics. After all we all like new, pretty things!

I mean, there’s a reason I initially became a Designer in the first place. Make pretty pictures all day? Sign. Me. Up.

But, as a Designer for more than 18 years now, I’ve learned that design is much more than a “pretty” picture.

True beauty is a byproduct of intelligence. Meaning, there’s a concept, a story, a greater idea, or a strategic vision behind the design choices that truly makes something functional, beautiful and therefore, memorable.

In case you’re wondering, memorable, is what you’re going for…

When I work one-on-one with my clients for their custom website designs, I take them through a series of homework assignments that identify their Fascination Advantage and their positioning so I have a strategy and framework in place to select visuals that’ll make up their brand’s design.

For example, we’re using red in the design not because red is the latest trendy color, but because it evokes feelings of passion and power.

Part of my design process is to ask my clients to tell me about their design inspiration. I have several questions for them around brands they admire, websites they’d like to emulate, colors and imagery they do (or don’t!) want to use, and I even ask for them to create a board on Pinterest to share with me so I can see where their preferences are.

But sometimes? They get stuck in the “Pinterest Rabbit Hole,” wandering around aimlessly, only to emerge hours later, hot and sweaty, not remembering where the time went.

It happens to me, too. Occupational hazard.

So, before I turn my clients loose on Pinterest, I share the framework and strategy I’m using to help guide them in their pin-cision-making so we stay away from the ever-present threat of the latest trends that’ll date and derail their brand in the next year.

So without further adieu, here’s my guide to conducting design research on Pinterest:

First, open up an account on Pinterest. (Duh.)  Once your account is set up, create a board, and call it “Design Research” or whatever you like. Next, go crazy pinning ALL THE THINGS you like from website designs, typography, color palettes, product packaging, photography, fashion, interior design, book covers, album covers… go nutz! (<— That’s right. With a “z”!)

After you have, like, 200 pins, take a break. Pinterest can be overwhelming and super consuming, so taking a break can help to reset your mind if you’re someone who gets overwhelmed by too much stimulus. After you take a break, look at all the pins together and see what patterns you find. Maybe a certain color, texture or pattern keeps appearing, or a certain font, or a photography or illustration style.

For example, maybe you pinned an awesome pair of electric blue stiletto heels, and maybe that blue also showed up on a book cover design, and a bedroom wall color. That, my friend, is a pattern!

Next, edit down your pins to its essential 10-15 common elements or even less.

How do you that? Well…

  1. When you’re looking at a particular pin, focus on how you feel while looking at it, and if that feeling aligns with how you want your ideal client to feel while looking at your materials, too.
  2. Determine if those design elements feel like they align with your Fascination Advantage archetype.
  3. Think about brands that have the same positioning as you’d like to have, whether they’re inside or outside of your industry. Take a look at how they use design to reinforce their positioning, in terms of colors, fonts, layout, photography, illustrations, etc… Do the designs you’re looking at feel like they align with the kind of positioning you’d like to have?

There you have it! Some solid strategies to falling down the “Pinterest Rabbit Hole”, Alice in Wonderland-style!

Just stay away from any tiny cakes you find, or suspicious “teas.”

Unless you really like Mad Hatters, then drink up, buttercup!

Natalie McGuire

Hi, I'm Natalie McGuire!

I'm a website designer + digital strategist who believes in design with strategic ease. Meaning, gorgeous design is informed by customer insights that make your business a whole lot easier. If you want to stop losing customers by having "just another pretty website," work with me.

Stop losing customers by having
“just another pretty website.”

Natalie McGuire Designs: Design with strategic ease


Natalie McGuire Designs stands against inequality, injustice, hate, discrimination, and systemic racism, and is deeply committed to investing in diversity and inclusion, and standing up for what is just, inclusive, loving & equitable.