Designers are keen observers, just like researchers. But designers are very different animals who process information in a unique way. We seem to pick up signals from consumers that differ from the ones researchers observe. This capacity, combined with the collaborative nature of the design discipline, allows designers to fuse together research insight into winning solutions.
Long before our design concepts are tested, consumers are watched and engaged through everything imaginable, all in pursuit of the holy grail of profound market insight. But here’s the problem: What consumers do and what they say they do are very different things. Even what consumers think they do and what they actually do are different. This is where market research is greatly aided by including designers in the research process. Being involved during all stages of research triggers something in designers that would otherwise simply be lost in translation, no matter how it’s communicated. This is the ultimate way to design from the first person perspective.
Once you’ve transformed market insights into design concepts, it’s time to brave that sometimes bone-chilling experience of focus group testing. And yes, it can be Garbage In, Garbage Out. But there’s a little-cited corollary to that adage: Gold In, Gold Out. Focus groups are like anything else; you get out of them what you put into them.
So, do your research by observing subjects in real consumer situations. Ask them the right questions and develop the empathy and insight needed to fuel your design process. Then create authentic prototypes. Once you’ve crossed the line of believability, when you can give your subjects a real consumer experience, then you should go to a focus group.
I love focus groups. I love them a lot. Why? Because, when we do our homework right, the results are overwhelmingly positive, validating our concepts, and, on occasion, giving us key insights into minor modifications than can amp up a design another degree to make it even more of a market success. Who couldn’t love that?
[Photos Courtesy of Xerox PARC]
Ravi Sawhney is the founder and CEO of RKS, a global leader in strategy, innovation, and design.
Since founding RKS nearly 30 years ago, Sawhney has earned a variety
of top honors in the design industry, and assembled a client list that
includes HP, Intel, LG, Medtronic, Seiko, Sprint, and Zyliss, among
many others. In the process, RKS has helped generate more than 150
patents on behalf of their clients.
In 2004 Sawhney was named chairperson of the Industrial Design
Excellence Award program, where he created the IDSA/BusinessWeek
Catalyst award for products that generate measurable business results.
Most recently, he was named Executive Director of Catalyst to direct
its evolution into a program to develop case studies illustrating
design’s power to effect positive change.
Sawhney also invented the popular Psycho-Aesthetics® design
strategy, which Harvard adopted as a Business School Case Study. He is
a regularly featured lecturer at Harvard Business School, USC’s
Marshall School of Business, and UCLA’s Anderson School of Business,
where he teaches this business-driven design tool.
In addition to RKS, Sawhney has played an integral part in the
founding of several other businesses, including Intrigo, an innovative
computer accessory company; On2 Better Health, a health products
company; and RKS Guitars, best known for its reinvention of the