Consumer focus groups require careful guidance

Graeme Traynor’s Design Business (DW 12 February) captures well the current thinking about the limitation of the focus group. Consumers are active participants in the brand game and just relying on their response to prepared material is very limited. Interactive workshops are not a new idea, but Traynor’s article glosses over their value at the early stages of the creative process; input rather than judgment. Just as ethnographic work, close involvement in the daily life of the respondent, reveals unspoken needs and unexpected patterns. But we must be clear about the consumers’ role.

To say they’re strategists can raise unreal expectations. They will rarely come up with the great solution unprompted. To move them from the lateral thinking of their own comfort zone demands careful guidance and no great solution ever came from straight-line thinking.

It also demands well thought- out stimulus material that must open possibilities, not close down solutions. Scrapbooks, sketches, image banks and visualisers can all add to the dynamism of a good workshop and ensure the output is tangible and understood.

Good workshops at the start of a complex project free up the creative process and reduce the need for later, judgmental research.

Phil Lawder

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