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Mujthaba Ahtamad: The Disconnect between Market Research Data and Structured Evaluations in the Automotive Industry

What's your background and why did you apply to study for a PhD at WMG?

My background is in Psychology, which looks at understanding human behaviour. More so, I am interested in how products are designed with people in mind. I wanted to further my own knowledge by applying the learning from my first degree into a real world problem which had the potential to make an industrial impact. WMG provided me with a platform to research an emerging area of interest for experts working in both industry and academia. As a result, I was researching a very relevant and important topic in the automotive sector.

Can you briefly explain your research project?

As products are evolving, manufacturers are looking to find new ways to attract and retain customers. It is imperative that the physical attributes of a product (i.e. the way it looks, feels, or generates sounds) are designed and developed in order that they reinforce positive psychological experiences and complement the core ideals of the brand they represent.

OEMs can use many techniques to capture customer satisfaction and feedback, namely through market research and laboratory based evaluations. The automotive industry is a great example of where market research, customer ratings and reviews can often encourage new car sales, e.g. JD Power Customer Ratings, Top Gear reviews, What Car reviews. However the usability of these methods has not been fully investigated. The efficacy of market research in product development continues to engage experts in their pursuit to gain improved insights, yet the area has received limited attention from an empirical viewpoint. This raised a unique opportunity to investigate how customers take part in market research in comparison to structured evaluations.

This exciting, yet challenging project was extremely multidiscliplinary and received support from both the EPSRC and ESRC. The project also received industrial support from Jaguar Land Rover as well as interest from a US-based market research agency currently providing consumer insights to the automotive sector.

Was the experience of working for your PhD what you expected?

I saw my PhD as being like a licence that was needed to become an independent researcher at an accepted level of expertise. The journey can certainly be challenging and demanding, but that does not mean the experience is without rewards. On the contrary, realising the notion that you are working to generate a brand new understanding of a topic that has the potential to help others, will most certainly be worth it.

I've had many highlights during my time at WMG, and among these was the teaching programme at the University. It was really satisfying to support practical sessions and even more so when presenting and leading my own sessions.

Plans for the future?

Currently, I am specialising further within the automotive and transport sectors by looking at how vehicle features can help enhance the experience of driving, while also looking at the development of safety features. I still have a passion for presenting and teaching so I am hoping to stay involved with delivering lectures in engineering, psychology, human factors and product development.

Mujthaba Ahtamad 2014