Generative vs. Evaluative Research, Design, and Marketing Strategy

5 Min Read In this guide, you'll learn about the differences between generative and evaluative design and how each one can help your brand separate from the rest of the pack.

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Last Updated: June 2023

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All brands, including those in the ecommerce business, should understand the differences between generative vs. evaluative design and research.

Each research modality holds merit, and knowledge of both can help inform the best decisions possible when launching new marketing initiatives, anticipating customer behavior, evaluating product features, and planning for scalability.

When you understand how generative design and evaluative research design differ, and how each benefits your brand, you can glean valuable insights into your business’s data that will help you make smarter business decisions. Smarter decisions equal more success.

So What is Generative Research?

Generative research is an approach to research that focuses on generating new, innovative ideas or solutions. It is used in many industries, but can be especially useful for ecommerce businesses, including during the early stages of problem solving or product development.

Sometimes referred to as discovery or exploratory research, this type of research allows you to explore new concepts, create alternative approaches to problems, and brainstorm creative solutions.

It also tends to be somewhat open-ended and can provide a deep understanding of your customer needs and wants.

To do this type of research, you might engage in brainstorming sessions with customers or employees to generate new ideas. You could also conduct cultural studies, or observational studies, to observe customer behaviors in real-world situations.

By understanding what drives and motivates your customers, you can create better experiences for them to meet their needs, and you can avoid the headache and stress of creating things no one wants.

Benefits of Using Generative Research

There are many, but below we’ve narrowed it down to a few.

  • Generative research can help you understand how customers interact with your products or services, in order to develop better experiences and customer service offerings.
  • Generative research enables you to identify trends in customer behavior and preferences, so you can modify your products or services accordingly and remain competitive.
  • Generative research also helps you become more agile, by giving you the ability to easily pivot as trends arise or when customer demands shift unexpectedly.

The benefits don’t just stop there, though. It also provides valuable insights into markets and potential opportunities for expansion you may have otherwise overlooked.

For example:

  • If your ecommerce business identifies an underserved market segment through generative research, you can then enter the market with a tailored product faster and earlier than competitors who don’t conduct this type of research.
  • It also allows you to anticipate changing demands more accurately by understanding how customer preferences may differ over time, so you can adjust your strategies accordingly.
  • This in turn helps you tailor your marketing campaigns so they are more likely to convert, as you’ll have deeper insights into who your customers are and what they want from their shopping experiences.

To recap, generative research is a powerful tool that can benefit your ecommerce business exponentially, by:

  • Helping you grasp how customers interact with your products or services
  • Identifying trends in customer behavior
  • Anticipating changing demands in the marketplace
  • Targeting underserved markets and audiences faster than competitors
  • Creating tailored marketing campaigns that are more likely to convert prospects into buyers

Ultimately, this type of research gives you a distinct edge, allowing you to understand current trends and predict future ones accurately, which leads to greater success for your business.

What is Evaluative Research?

Evaluative research is a type of research that assesses the various characteristics, features and functions of existing products, services, or processes, via independent feedback from people familiar or experienced with your brand.

This type of data helps you discover whether you’re meeting your customers’ expectations. Evaluative study could be done using surveys and questionnaires, or by conducting in-depth interviews with customers and using the power of focus groups.

Think of it as obtaining quantitative data about customer behaviors and preferences, so you can evaluate how well your products or services are performing, and how you can improve them to increase customer satisfaction and loyalty.

Benefits of Using Evaluative Research

  • It can help you identify areas where your current offerings are lacking in terms of quality or features.
  • It can help you uncover opportunities for improving your website design, user experience, and customer journey, so you know your shoppers will have a positive shopping experience.
  • It can also help you create new offerings that meet customers’ needs better than before.
  • Plus, you gain invaluable insights into customer preferences and behaviors that you can then use to inform your marketing strategies and campaigns.

Overall, evaluative research, like generative, is an essential tool for any ecommerce business looking to stay competitive.

Why Choose Generative vs. Evaluative Research Methods?

Ideally, at some point in your process, you will engage in both types of research. However, which you use and when depends on the goals you’re trying to achieve and the resources you’ve got available to use.

If your goal is to understand how your current offerings are performing, evaluative research might be most appropriate. If your goal is to come up with new ideas, generative research may be best.

If time or budget constraints are a factor, it’s also good to note that evaluative research can produce quick results, while generative methods could require more investment upfront, but yield greater insights in the long run.

Again, choosing what’s right for your business depends on your own unique circumstances and goals. If it’s a case of either/or, choose what you know will maximize the effectiveness of your efforts.

What About Evaluative Design and Generative Design?

Though the terms are similar, the goals differ. Generative and evaluative design is the process of creating something new from scratch, or improving on an existing product or service.

Generative and evaluative research is the process of gathering qualitative data and conducting quantitative analysis, so that you can better understand your customer’s wants and needs, and how your products and services can or are serving them best.

Like the differences between the two research modalities, generative vs evaluative design are also important distinctions to understand to develop a successful ecommerce business.

When talking about generative design, we’re talking about the creative process used to come up with multiple options to evaluate and refine, while evaluative design is focused on judging ideas or products that already exist.

Both approaches have their advantages and disadvantages, but when done correctly, they can both be effective tools for ecommerce businesses.

Think of generative design as exploration, rather than evaluation. It is iterative, meaning ideas are tested and improved upon to find the best solution. It’s an approach that often yields innovative solutions you might not have considered otherwise.

You also have more flexibility in terms of changing needs or goals over time, because you can continuously refine through the design process, instead of starting from scratch whenever something changes.

Generative design also requires cross-functional participation for the best results, so it encourages collabs between different teams, i.e. designers, developers, and product managers. Teamwork makes the dream work!

Evaluative design, on the other hand, takes a more traditional approach by assessing your existing products or ideas. This is based on predetermined criteria and helps you make changes accordingly.

The evaluative approach is better suited for situations when you’ve got clear goals or criteria you need to meet for a product or idea to be successful.

Evaluative design gives you more control over the development process and helps you identify potential issues early on, so you can make necessary changes before too much money has been invested into the project.

Overall, both generative and evaluative design hold merit. Generative design encourages creativity, but gives you the flexibility to adapt over time. Evaluative design gives you more developmental control by providing clear criteria to meet before moving forward.

Used together, both approaches can provide an effective way for your ecommerce business to succeed and create innovative products, while still holding to strict standards.

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