So somehow on VO forums the Ruby topic has turned into a debate on design.
I said later this month I'd discuss my thoughts on each vocaloid design, but before then, I'd like to express my full opinion on the design aspect of Vocaloid because it seems to be a issue constantly brought up. :-/
Okay so lets begin. I'm not a stranger to the meaning behind illustration and have a fine arts degree and have a graphics course or two behind me. So this is my area of knowledge because I got some training in it one way or another.
So design has two purposes, the first like the cover of a book, designed to catch your eye and make you look at the content. the second is to make you acknowledge it whenever you see it. In theory you can tell the difference between product 1 and product 2 based purely on aspects such as shame, colour, etc. This is way a lot of budget brands will mimic products they are basically a cheapened version of... Like using the same colour red that Coke-cola uses for the supermarket special brand.
True Vocaloid is a music software about making vocals, but its a difficult concept to sell. Take note that KEI even had problems with the concept of Vocaloid at first. So without the personas, avatars, mascots, etc, you will have a much harder time getting people to know what vocaloid is especially in this age where the fans perception of what vocaloid is can be based on their exposure to it.
But at 31 years old... I am so used to this and due to the training, the design may catch my eye but I just ignore it after the fact. I often cite the main problem with Miku is I didn't know she was a vocaloid when I first saw her... this is because I got out of the anime-desu design in 2006. So to me she was just a random character I saw popping up at places like Dragon Cave and had the same Sailor Moon-esque design many characters had for about a decade after S.Moon had done its run. I didn't really pay much attention until I happened out of the blue to ask who she was in a conversation somewhere in the One Piece fandom I believe... I can't remember at this stage to be frank...
...and then I was presented with a confusing conversation that left me saying "thats a vocaloid?". And left laughing when I was told that there now was a vocalodi who can do English (Luka) for the first time as I owned Lola and that was odd as I knew there had been English vocaloids for ages.
But the marketing did its purpose and eventually led me to asking the big question about Miku+ Vocaloid, so it did its job "eventually" and this is the point of the design. It gets you familair with a design and aspect of a product and you get to know it on sight. So this is important for this reason and I'd argue those who downplay the design are not well tuned to how important it can be.
In that sense, we all know what a car is. But to know what a difference between the Volkwagon cars and Ford cars upon sight, that is more difficult and where the design has to take hold. A die-hardfan not only has to be able to tell the difference between 1 brand name and another, but also each product in that brand... And this is where dedication comes in. As fans, we're past stage 1, the reaction period and are on stage 2, the acknowledge stage. We don't need to have our eyes drawn to attention because we're already drawn in, the design now has the purpose of just making sure we know Ia from Mayu upon sighting the two.
So design comes into play here, in this moment, knowing when you see Ia you expect a IA song...
Either way, once the marketing illustration has done its job the focus on the product then makes or breaks a person and brings them on board. So sadly, no matter how good Vocaloid is, the design is going to be the first and foremost important thing for the sake of marketing. A person may hear the voice in a song and like it, but you don't see mobile speakers blasting the songs constantly as ad services. This can become noise pollution if its attempted, lost in the mass of sound, and you can have complaints and other problems. So a 2D image that can be stuck in a magazine or on a wall for passerbys/readers is going to be able to market much more easier to a wider audience simply because there is more chance of the person looking then listening.
There is actually a lot of research into sounds and a lot more ways you can fail to market something based on this medium. For example, teenagers can hear sounds that adults can't hear.
I'm not going to be persuaded to buy a vocaloid because its cute... Heck, I say this knowing Sweet Ann is one of my favourite voices (not in my top 10 though) and has a bad execution of a boxart. But I will know Miku whenever I see her, I will know Gumi whenever I see her,e I will know Big Al when I see him, SeeU when I SeU, etc, etc. Initial reaction for me is now limited to the first unveiling of a vocaloid, and thats it. Which is why I said in the past that I just file the design.