Aaron Greider — Walter Landor and Consumer Research

Aaron Greider
5 min readSep 25, 2018
Walter Landor in 1982, aboard their headquarters on the Klamath

Walter Landor was born in Munich 1913, though Landor had left Germany for England before Hitler’s rise to power in 1933 in fear of the repercussions of pursuing art. At 17, his studies led him to a six-month internship at W.S. Crawford Ltd. in London, who were pioneering market research of the time. Through his colleagues there, he met Milner Gray and Mishna Black — who were very impressed with his work — and the three formed the first industrial design firm of its kind in England, active 1932–39. As war loomed, Landor found himself moving London to San Francisco after finishing a project for the New York World’s Fair in 1939. Just before his visa expired, he secured an industrial design professorship at the California College of Arts and Crafts. In San Francisco, he began an industrial design very similar to his first internship in London, Landor and Associates, in 1941.

The Decanter

Landor put a very particular emphasis on consumer research, targeting his designs specifically towards appealing to the largest amount of people. As seen in a video produced by his designers, he personally narrates the creation of a decanter for his longtime client, Old Fitzgerald, from briefing to ideation, to consumer research and release. Old Fitzgerald was renown for its upscale whiskey “For Hospitality’s finest hours.” Designing such a luxury product is a lofty ordeal, which Landor met with extensive ideation and a proportional amount of testing across the most impactful twelve concepts. The final result bore a rounded form and a closure capable of holding a candlestick when removed.

Advertisement for the twin Candlelight Decanter

Prioritize the Gestalt Experience for Mass Appeal

The process began with the designer’s sketches and several traditional cork-board critiques. Over the consequent weeks, the sculptors created rough cut plastic models for stone resin casting, then set them with a plastic enamel to create scale mockups that simulated glass. The mockups then enter the first stage of user testing, conducted in a casual group environment (roughly groups of eight) by members of the designer team and the consumer-research department. The next steps of the review process are intended to evaluate the designs with the widest appeal to members of every age group, socio-economic status, gender, or race. This is a surprising contrast to today’s testing, which targets specific personas to select a narrow target audience for marketing. This could possibly be because market research practices were still in development, or that Landor’s clients were typically very established and whose influence reached beyond a few bodies of people. Other tests included: one on one interviews with consumers, a supermarket laboratory — where consumers are led through a three-walled supermarket while being observed by a researcher at a desk, and a liquor counter — where the consumer had to ask for a specific bottle for the clerk to hand to them. Here, Landor observes tendencies and minute decisions influenced by the subtleties of the design, when pinned against other designs. Finally, consumers are observed in a home setting, where the overall emotional experience brought about by the design combined with the product is evaluated.

Consumer Research Informs Current and Future Decisions

Each of these tests and the sales of that year’s design significantly informs the future designs. Landor considered the timing of drastic changes to the design, the return to a classic feel, and elaborate collector’s designs when evaluating that year’s release to maintain active consumer engagement and a fresh feel to the brand. The concept of mass appeal is consistent in each of his brands; Landor did more than the industrial design of luxury goods, he engaged in brand’s packaging and logo design to establish the entire experience a consumer engages with a company. I asked five individuals to guess the decade of twelve of Landor’s logo and package designs in order to determine if his work can be considered “good design,” in that it seems timeless, could have been designed today, and if it’s emotional impact remains with the brand’s identity today. The logos I compiled were created individually from 1964–1986. Those surveyed most commonly guessed that his work was from the 80’s/90’s, based on the fact that the brands they recognized have been around for longer than 50 years, combined with an inclination that the logo was more recent in the lifespan of the brand. Their guesses ranged from the 1960’s to the 2000’s. In the scope of this informal survey, it seems that the freshness of Landor’s work is still memorable as it is relevant today, because 75% of the 12 logos were recognized as popular brands today, and 80% of the 10 logos that were not one-offs are still in use.

Know What Resonates with Your Target Consumer

This is a testament to the reach and influence of Walter Landor, as well as the impact of research on his success. I believe user-centered design in this manner — considering the gestalt experience the consumer has every step through a brand — can inform my work in communication design, as I will be involved with branding, logo work, packaging, and advertisements that must evoke a memorable response of the brand. Knowing how previous years’ decisions have influenced sales, as well as knowing exactly how my designs catalyze a connection with an identity will greatly inform what aspect of the brand should be emphasized and where to target consumers to be most open to engagement with a brand. Landor considered the entire experience, stating that the decanter should appeal not only to the intelligence of the consumer but their hearts while they interact with it in their home — evoking the intense emotional responses that inspire them to buy again and again.

Bernays, Edward L. “Walter Landor (1913–1995).” Transatlantic Perspectives, www.transatlanticperspectives.org/entry.php?rec=125.

Biography by AIGA. “Walter Landor.” AIGA | the Professional Association for Design, American Institute of Graphic Arts, www.aiga.org/aiga/content/inspiration/aiga-medalist/walter--landor/.

Landor Associates. “Our Story.” Landor, landor.com/about/our-story.

Landor Associates. Photo of Walter Landor. 13 June 2011.

The images preseted for survey, with limited verbal introduction.