User centered field research in China (Part 1/2- Research Preparation)

Field research equipment

With over 8 years of experience here in China, WILDDESIGN often gets approached for insight and advice about the tastes and voice of Chinese consumers. It’s always a great and interesting challenge, and so we were excited to begin, late last year, another extensive trend research study on behalf of one of our clients, who approached us for help in investigating the home and interior design tastes of the average Chinese consumer.

At its core, there are two kinds of research: desk research and quantitative research. For this project, WILDDESIGN wasn’t content with basic desktop or telephone research, – we sought genuine, person-to-person data, observations and analysis of what real Chinese, especially large stakeholders in the home and interior design business think and like. We sent our designers, along with some research assistants, to gather data in four Chinese cities: Shanghai, Beijing, Guangzhou and Chengdu.

In an interview with project manager Jon Walmsley, we discussed the extensive breadth of the trend study and some of the surprises and challenges of planning and conducting this type of research.

Q1: WHAT was the project about?

A: Our client wanted to do a project centered around understanding the Chinese consumer and their voice, so we decided that to fully understand this, we needed to go into people’s homes who were in the process of buying or renovating their homes. We also interviewed architects and interior designers who had knowledge of the large stakeholder map of suppliers and how you would go about designing a product for the future.

Q2: WHERE did you find participants and what were the screening requirements?

A: We were asked for a trend-study, but you can’t really get a direct answer about future patterns from someone – we needed to seek out the trends and patterns on our own.

You are always looking for the perfect participant: someone who is a trendsetter, who blogs, researches online, and is really active within the design community, but you never really find these people, though you find pockets of them sometimes.

However, we primarily found participants via social networking. We have also some method to clarify them. For screening, we asked a series of 3-part questions centered around whether the participants shared information on blogs, and we gave them a rating scale to identify how much of a trendsetter they were and how active they were within the social community.

The thing is, you can ask these questions, and that’s fine, but are you in the right location when you intercepted these people, are they actually the right people? It is always important to view your findings with critical eyes and from many angles.

Q3: WHO is the target segment – Was the focus on trying to find average people?

A: This depends on projects and requirements of the client in terms of their target market segment. Based on this we actually had a tier system, with 3 tiers based on income, education, role in their company, also on location within the city to some extent. We were able to target one home from each group in each city. Also, gender differences were important.

Q4: Did you run into any difficulty with cultural differences when interviewing or screening people?

A: We found that some people were reluctant to participate in the research because of trust issues, but that was overcome by portraying a face – we put our faces in the email to them to say, this is us and we’ll give you an incentive for doing this. I think that might have been a cultural thing, the lack of trust and willing for this type of research. We had our research team along with myself and Yingting Chen, so a Western face and a Chinese face.Most, though, turned out to ultimately be quite curious about the study, and a number of participants ended up contacting the researchers afterwards and asking about their analytical findings.

Q5:  WHAT did you observe about the Chinese cities you have visited?

A: We visited four cities in total: Shanghai, Beijing, Chengdu and Guangzhou (in that order). Generally, Chengdu provided the most interesting results from a time perspective, because it’s like Shanghai was five years ago, whereas the cities on the east coast were more temperate, with differences between them based on climate but also local culture and ethnicity. 

 Royal air in Beijing

Q6: WHAT ROLE did location play in terms of what you noticed about design and purchasing choices?

A: Generally speaking, Beijing has a very royal air to it – it seems like people within Beijing prefer rich, lavish, and often big things, like big apartments. It was all to do with scale, and even in an informal way you can walk down the street and see the buildings in Beijing, they’re so different from the ones in Guangzhou, for instance. So, the thinking of the architects and planners behind a city is important, but it doesn’t mean it’s the same as what the users think. For example, users could have come from other provinces.


Many of the main challenges involved in the research preparations included simply finding willing, quality participants; a lot of this came down to cultural differences, actually, as a lot of potential participants were taken aback by the fact of allowing strangers visit their home, which is very uncommon in China.

Jon will tell us more about field research execution and the analysis in the next part of this interview. Read Part 2 here>>field research in china

You may also be interested in:

>> Chinese color and pattern trend study for Geberit

>> The new color trend the Chinese Nouveau riche like?

>> 14 Design trends for the start 2014

User centered field research in China (Part 2/2 Execution and Analysis)
"Who Moved My Cheese?" - Business Opportunities in Fast-Changing China
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Muhan: 8 years living and working in Germany and recently come to Shanghai. From a product designer became a blogger, I am always trying to catch up, explore and learn from the fast- changing world.

Originally written by Muhan Zhang, 26. February 2014. Last updated 23. April 2023


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