Design research in major cities

Over the years I’ve seen a number of consumer focus groups and research carried out internationally. Often only major cities would be polled… for example in America they would visit New York City, Chicago, and LA to do their focus groups, or maybe they would just go to NYC and LA.

It seems that the majority of consumers (in America for instance) do not live in major cities, though there are big concentrations of people in cities from all areas. It seems like you might miss the consumers opinions that haven’t been changed by city life

My question: Do you believe that for a general market product (for something like toothbrushes, cell phones, packaging), you’d get good enough design research data from major cities for products that would be sold in both rural and city markets? Would it be better to do sessions in smaller cities as well, or would the difficulties in getting a broad sample not be worth the extra effort?

How much money do you want to spend?

There’s your driver.

Sure there are cultural differences between big city, medium city, small town and rural. Just as there are differences between, old-young, sex, race, northern-southern-east-west-midwest, income, education and list goes on and on.

But generally, it is easier to do back-end sales research on launched product to see if there are any nuances between groups. You then use that information to drive your front-end research. For example, your existing product sells great with the 30-40 year-old group. If you want to appeal to the older market, for your next product, you will research the want/needs of the 50-60 group.

So if your current product is not selling in rural areas, then it might be worth the money to find out why.

Makes sense.

I always chuckle when I see user studies for US targeted products that poll just LA and NYC, just because people seem to be a such extremes there… and so many places in between are so different. But then there’s the value of finding the extreme users in some research and I guess that would nail it, and be easier/cheaper to do.

Although I have no proof of this, I suspect it is more effective to worry about the demographic variables other than city size. You get more bang for the buck.

Meaning, in large cities like NYC and LA you have a large diverse group and can easily cover the bases. You can easily get the values of a 20-year-old latina, 40-year-old middle-class caucasian male and 60-year-old wealthy african-american female to drive your product.

I would guess, and again I have no proof of this theory, the difference between a 20-year-old latina in NYC is not largely different from a 20-year-old latina in Iowa when evaluating most products. I think age, sex, income, race and maybe a few more things have more impact on products than location.

For those who take this idea for their thesis, you’re welcome. :wink:

I am going to have to disagree with you here. A consumer in NYC has virtually everything at their finger tips. If they want an exotic cup of coffee, food from Indonesia, or just a burger from McDonalds it is there. Living conditions are smaller more expensive and far different than the rest of the country. There are people from all over the globe, as well as more tourists than any other city in the country. Because of this it creates and over stimulation of variables and views

Just my quick two cents. Will add more tonight.


We do both. I think it depends what the goal of the research is. Is it to inspire a solution based on lead users and early adopters, or is it to observe potential mass market users? Both can be valuable. We have done some research in rural areas in China, India, and South East Asia. It is very intense, and time consuming, but doable.

This PDF is an example of a study we did on mobile phones being used as a means for transporting and transferring money in Afghanistan.

There is no doubt someone in NYC has more access than someone in Iowa. But that is a distribution issue, not a design issue. And with the internet, what products in NYC can’t I have shipped to Iowa?

Does Mars have anything that specifically plays in NYC and not in Peoria? Not counting an egg cream. :slight_smile:

That’s along the lines of why I questioned polling just the people living in major cities… people live differently and are exposed to different things there than people that live in smaller cities. I think it changes you

I remember :wink:. There was some interesting research happening when I was at frog too… for one project we went out to rural SC to observer people in their environment, while working with the German studio doing the same thing around Europe. That was for a convenience store product, which really would hit all markets in all places in a country

There are probably more early adopter/trend setters in major cities, and that would be the place do research on them. For a mass market product (and if it were my company on the line), I think I’d prefer a broader sample… maybe if the price tag was to high maybe I’d just visit a few major cities too.

Consultancies are sometimes asked to get the ‘qual’ research from just a few people, then letting the client companies with the big budgets do the ‘quant’… The idea that design insights from a few people could point to trends that fit wider groups. Maybe that’s part of what the researchers are thinking

I didn’t realize you were at frog Travis. Did you work with zhoward Nuk and Mark Olsen?

Yep. It sometimes happens this way though we are doing much more quant work now that we have an entire strategy team. We have a Boston office that is pure strategy, as well as full strategists in every studio. Nice to be able to incorporate it for clients looking for statisticle signifigence.

I do think a lot can be gleaned from a select group of earl adopters and influencers as that may determine where the mass market will be in a few years. We often did this at Nike and Converse. A quick trip to Paris or Tokyo talking to some trusted cultural influencers tended to be more fruitful in determining product.

too bad one of P+G’s three thousand consumer insights staff couldn’t chime in here…

where I work, we are aware of the regional differeces between the coasts and the middle of the US, and use it strategically in consumer research. Any city large enough will give you just about any sample needed, but west coast is the most “early adoper-ish”.
but to the OP’s question, researching in the heartland tells you how something launching very soon will play across the lowest common denominator. I think many products have longer development cycles, and so using NY is more directional than final.

I think this generally clears up what appeared amiss. Some of the research wasn’t meant to comprehensive, but more directional… and others may have taken a cheaper route rather than thorough route

it would be fantastic if consumer insight people did pipe in, I’d like to hear their thoughts on the subject

Yo - I didn’t work with Howie much or Mark at all, and mainly got direction from the Herrenberg CD

Hey Yo, thanks for sharing that study, it was an eye opening read. It’s astounding to see how those Nokias, which are practically throw away phones here, have become tools to achieve a better life, whether it be through money or love. There’s so much potential.

I tip my hat to Jan Chipchase & Panthea Lee, it takes a lot of guts to do something like that.
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I love examples of creative alternative-use, and that is about as good as they get.

When I was at Arizona State, I heard about a lot of market research being done in Phoenix. I think NYC and LA would be more valuable to identify emerging trends, but to evaluate a more mature product I would hit Phoenix and maybe somewhere like St. Louis. More suburban population.