Connoisseurship as a substitute for user research? The case of the Swiss watch industry

2013-09-17T14:38:30Z (GMT) by Matt Sinclair
Conventional wisdom holds that new product development is more successfully undertaken when design is user led. An exception is the luxury goods sector, in which a common presentation of the brand is one where the customer should aspire to the vision of its designers. In such cases, the proprietor is often cast as a connoisseur, an expert in the brand's history who is intuitively able to give vision and direction. Within the Swiss watch industry, heritage and the illusion of exclusivity are vital strategies in the communication of products as luxury items. Connoisseurship plays a central role in this communication, establishing the boundaries of brands whose products might otherwise appear similar. In such cases, connoisseurship is presented to the customer as superior to user research, engendering products with a sophistication which customer insights cannot provide. Nonetheless, whilst conventional user research methods play little part in the design of Swiss watches, less formal methods are employed. These are shown to also have application in non-luxury sectors. The utilisation of strategies employed by the Swiss watch industry in future scenarios of new product development is also discussed.