President's Report Masthead
June 30, 2012
User interface design drives marketing research

Photo by Jonathan Cohen
Marketing researcher Sajna Ibrahim studies user interface design.

User interface design drives marketing research

Doctoral student Sajna Ibrahim conducts experiments to judge consumers’ reactions to electronics such as MP3 players, digital cameras and cell phones. Ibrahim, whose research focuses on marketing and product design, said user interface design — or UID — influences how consumers feel about a product before, during and after purchase.

“Ranging from colorful buttons and pointers to touch screens and gestural feedback systems like the Wii, these user interfaces inform the way consumers learn and even ‘talk’ to a product,” she said.

When it comes to marketing, most companies focus on form and function and may emphasize brand and price. But the consumer forms perceptions about a product’s usability before she ever picks it up. “User interface design is one of the key drivers of consumers’ purchase intentions and willingness to pay,” Ibrahim said. “I would like companies to build bridges between the marketing and design teams.”

Apple, creator of the iPhone, is an example of a company that understands the connection between user interface design and marketability, she said. The cell phone industry at large, however, has a challenge when it comes to UID: Many phones are returned after purchase, and most cases involve usability problems. The situation, called the “no fault found” phenomenon, offers an example of the way UID affects consumers and companies. “When a product is returned, it becomes a marketing problem,” she said.

Ibrahim studied electronics and communications in India and completed an MBA in international marketing. She worked for an engineering design services firm for eight years before returning to school for a doctorate. Now she uses specialized software to make 3D models of product concepts for her experiments.

Ibrahim, who studies with marketing professor Manoj Agarwal, said her work is driven by what she sees in the marketplace. “This is something you can see and feel in your daily life,” she said. “It’s important that these ideas should reach consumers as well as researchers.”