Let’s all join together and nail focus group research

Why is there an apparent attitudinal divide between the views expressed by design consultancies with in-house research facilities – which you must assume to be generally favourable, despite JKR’s apparently contradictory statement that ‘Breaking rules and research don’t go together’ (News Analysis, DW 19 April) – and the rest of the design world? There strings of garlic and wooden stakes are always close at hand, in case a researcher ever threatens to cross their thresholds?

The cause can be simply attributed: it’s focus groups.

Much favoured by client companies, as they’re an easy buy; quick and easy to set up; and most people believe they know how they work and what to expect. And much favoured by research agencies, as they’re easy to sell; quick and easy to set up (therefore highly profitable); and most researchers feel they know how to run them and interpret the findings (if only that were really the case).

But, put simply, they are not the right research tool to use in a design context:

They’re not the best way to aid design development – but there are other small group methodologies, such as breakout groups, that can complement other non group-based methodologies.

They’ve never been a good way to assess consumer reactions to design. Apart from the abilities of group moderators or their interpretive skills, gathering groups of people together to react to design ideas does not reflect real life. This is not the context in which most decisions – purchase or consumption – are made, so why take any notice of group reactions?

I would like design groups (including those that have in-house researchers) and their clients to join me in driving home the final nail in the coffin of focus group research in a design context.

The world will become a better place and more of us will find enlightenment in the contribution consumers can make to brilliant, innovative, brand-enrichening design.

Mick Williamson

Creative director, Head of the Drinks Unit

The Research Business International


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