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Focus Groups: It’s Like Saying the F-Word to Creatives

I havealways had a deep respect for and synergistic relationship with marketing. Iunderstand the importance of strategic positioning and believe good design isinformed design. I love diving deep into the customer demographic, walking amile in the prospective buyer’s shoes, and listening intently to thesalesperson’s insight.But thereis one thing that I find to be not only a waste of time but a buzzkill to thecreative process: the focus group. Yes, the f-word. It could be redefined in theNew Design Dictionary as such: focusgroup n. /fŭkūs/gɹuːp/

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I havealways had a deep respect for and synergistic relationship with marketing. Iunderstand the importance of strategic positioning and believe good design isinformed design. I love diving deep into the customer demographic, walking amile in the prospective buyer’s shoes, and listening intently to thesalesperson’s insight.But thereis one thing that I find to be not only a waste of time but a buzzkill to thecreative process: the focus group. Yes, the f-word. It could be redefined in theNew Design Dictionary as such:

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focusgroup n. /fŭkūs/gɹuːp/

1. A wayof giving power to people who are highly motivated by: a.) a free lunch, b.) a small fee, or c.) hearing themselves speak.

2. Ameans of wasting countless design and strategy hours, and negating years ofexpertise by depending upon the opinion of people who either don’t know ordon’t care.

3. A wayof removing or shifting responsibility for the economic success or failure ofany product, marketing strategy, or promotional campaign because the “focus group preferred it.” See also: scapegoat

4. Ahighly effective way of killing any type of innovation, intuition, orcreativity in a formal, costly setting versus an equally accurate alternativeknown as the dartboard.

5. Aquick means to making a product, strategy or marketing project bland (or insome cases, worse) in order to appease all who attended or participated. Referto example: Pontiac AZTEC

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In spite ofits bleak definition, the focus group can be positive and informative dependingon the part of the process it informs. Focus groups are best utilized in thepre-design process and information-gathering phase. They can provide insightinto who the participants are as a demographic group and what they need anddesire.

But please, let the use of the f-word stop there.

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Laura Guido-Clark is an expert in theskin of consumer products–their color, materials, and finish. This isperhaps the area of industrial and textile design that requires thegreatest understanding of the human heart. Laura has spent her lifestudying the always new and always surprising ways that human beingsreact to the look and feel of any given product.

Laura is the rare color and finishconsultant whose expertise includes not just textiles but heavymanufacturing industries such as automotive, electronics, and majorhousehold appliances. This experience has given her vast knowledge ofthe raw materials and processes used in product categories across theboard. Throughout her twenty-plus year career, Laura has analyzed theconscious and unconscious influences that drive buying decisions. Herability to translate those influences into prescient forecasting and,ultimately, into concrete applications of color and finish has helpedcompanies such as Samsung, Apple, Mattel, and Toyota design productsthat resonate with consumers and succeed in competitive markets.

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