What a fascinating article!
I do a lot of consumer package photography (my favorite kind of project) and in some cases the photo guidelines are very tightly scripted before the shoot and as I've been told, many of the choices are based on 'research' prior to the shoot. In other cases, other than layout space, many of the specific choices are made in real time based on what 'looks good' at the time of the shoot. In these cases, the photography typically undergoes focus group research *after* the designs have been assembled but prior to going into production, and if changes are required it mans new photography (woot woot!). It's incredible how much it costs to bring a food product to market and many companies will try to hedge their bets as best they can before a product hits the shelves.
Though I'm not personally aware of it, I'd venture a guess that the ad agencies and design firms that I work with are using some derivative of the type of research from the New Yorker article, and I'd further guess that it will become the norm.
Thanks for linking that, it was a fun read and I scored pretty well with the experiments at the end.