The Importance of Focus Groups
Understanding the market is a hugely important part of industrial design. Without market research, we can’t create products that address the consumers wants and needs. One very important tool for us as designers, are focus groups.
Focus groups are used to determine the market’s opinions, needs, and purchasing process. If conducted well, a focus group will give genuine insight into consumers thoughts about your product and how they will use it. This can allow us to discover latent needs and new opportunities for our products.
Getting the most from your focus group
A focus group will be most effective if everybody feels secure and comfortable in sharing their opinions. Venue and layout are important parts of creating an atmosphere that facilitates good discussions.
Finding the right focus group participants is also key. Within your demographic, it’s good to have a diverse panel. An ideal focus group is around 15 people – enough to get a good range of responses, but small enough to keep a level of intimacy which encourages interaction.
Focus groups need moderation, to keep conversation moving and on topic. Ideally a moderator will have experience in market research, be impartial, and know how to get good feedback.
When conducting a focus group, we need to provide the participants with a clear understanding of the intentions behind the research. It’s also important to outline what information you want to find out, and why that information is important. Set topics that open the discussion, but are not biased towards any particular outcome.
Uncovering latent needs and new opportunities
One of the great advantages of the focus group is a direct line to the consumer. This allows very direct feedback which can improve designs, and builds a level of trust and empathy between consumers and companies. It also gives us the opportunity as product designers to discover latent needs of the market.
Latent needs are a much debated topic in the product design industry. Putting aside the terminology, the issue boils down to “how can we understand what the consumer wants a product to do?”. If we use focus groups effectively, we can create a discussion guided towards outcomes, and focus on what the consumer wants done, not how they want it to be done.
It’s our job as designers to take the actual need, and figure out how the product can do it effectively. It can be easy to start taking solutions from customers, and treating them as though they are needs. By keeping discussion moderated and focused on the outcome, we can better identify the need, rather than the layman’s proposed solution.
Focus groups are a very important part of our process in making effective product designs, and can definitely be used more effectively to understand what consumers need. Conducting a focus group well can give you an ideal framework for creating a product that satisfies the market needs.