Designers talk about Focus Groups

Article is Speak Up Archive: Focus Group Test - be sure to read the comments as well.

Haven’t had a chance to digest or jump into the fray, mostly an FYI here, but my first reaction was disappointment and disbelief in the shallowness of the article (people say what they want directly, so just ask them and then give it to them).

Where is the inference, people?

It is disappointing.

I am basically ambivalent about the value of focus groups. But I am struck by how they continue to be used in the wrong way. They may be OK for evaluating things that already exist, but they are lousy at generating new ideas - hence the need for creative, inferential skills.

Along these lines, if the Harvard Business Review is to be believed, then their claim in the Feb04 issue (I’d post a link, but it’s subscription only) is that “the MFA is the new MBA.” It goes on to say that “the supply of people with basic MBA skills is expanding and therefore driving down their value, meanwhile the demand for artistic aptitude is surging. In many ways MBA graduates are becoming this century’s blue-collar workers -people who entered the workforce that was full of promise only to see their jobs move overseas.”

Are things actually changing?

Personally it seems that there is a huge gap between the things people say they want and the things they buy. As Ben Kingsly would say the gap between what people say they do and what they actually do is quite large… or something like that.

They have value. When run correctly and seen through the proper lense of intrepretation they can give you a lot of fuel in the ideation stage but often times they’re set up by a marketing person who wants to confirm a preconceived notion.

I think if you focus tested a bunch of MP3 players before they where released you would end up with something like the rio or the Nike little egg thing, something that looks futuristic, technological, and holds more than a cd. but what people buy is a ipod, a little brick that came straight out of le corbu’s playbook that holds way more music than anyone could have conceived of carrying around with them 5 years ago. I’m amazed, I used to have one of those case logic car carriers that held like 150 cds for my ride. I would have never dreamed of asking for something that could hold 3 times that in the palm of my hand. Maybe I’m dimmer than the average consumer in a focus group.

I have had benificial results using an “Un-focused Group” to generate new ideas. Through this I used a local market research firm who conducted a seaminly unstructured focus group simmilar to what you would have seen on the IDEO 20/20 peice (one they did the shoping cart on).

So many years later, is that really the universal point of reference for designers when they talk about user research?

Oh, how much I hope this is true!