Traditionally, business leaders have been known to spend small fortunes on research and development (R&D), attempting to create the next great "hero" product that will put them over the top. A large part of the process consists of costly trials and tests and time-consuming focus groups--all in the name of R&D. In some cases, the uber-expensive patent process can drain most of your budget on just trying to protect your intellectual property.

It's a lot of time and energy put into an effort even before the product goes to market, especially since there is no guarantee of a return. Traditional R&D often can't be avoided, but wouldn't it make sense to invest similar resources in something that already generates sales?

For instance, a well-designed retail display can be one of the most effective marketing tools in a company's arsenal--but the key is investing significantly in front-end design to effectively showcase the brand and engage with customers. In other words, the new R&D is research and design.

Similar to traditional R&D, there is much to consider with research and design. The psychology of how and why people buy is a critical component to understand when producing a smart design. You have to engage consumers, tell the brand's story and ultimately entice the person to make a purchase. A smart design that is thoughtful and thoroughly researched on the front-end will do all of this and more, including bringing the customer back for repeat business.

If you sell through a retailer, that's another component to consider and often an overlooked constituent in the process. Besides working directly with the brand, a good design company must also work with retailers to learn their pain points and then design in-store solutions. Store owners and manufacturers alike need merchandise to move quickly out the door, so displays need to address the concerns of both.

Because each retail setting is different, each display must be designed differently-- sometimes created to capitalize on certain advantages and sometimes to remedy particular challenges in that store. In some instances, we have found success with the "store within a store" approach to engage shoppers. Other times, success has come from a sleek rack with interactive options through which consumers can engage. Without a doubt, regardless of which design is selected, the best options always are ones that are fully researched and designed on the front-end.

Once implemented, the brand can expect a healthy return on its investment. We have found that custom displays increase product sales by 40 to 70 percent. With results like that, brands can hardly afford not to put design into their front-end R&D.