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Design Strategy
Do Focus Groups Still Hold Value?

In business development today, design thinking has taken the world by storm. Being a critical process for innovation, this kind of thinking sets one apart from competition as it always builds solutions around user needs. Initial processes are heavily embedded in R&D and there are multiple tools to collect data. Some of these tools have been tried, tested and incorporated into the evolutionary process and some have been spat out like dinner that has gone off.

Today we explore focus groups. Traditionally, focus groups were used by marketers in the early stages of concept development to test and determine overall strategy and direction before a product was pushed out to the public. Marketers would invite different segments of the market in to collect qualitative data from participants who had potential interests in a Brand’s offering.

As internal business processes evolved into innovation driven offerings, we began to see focus groups used in the frameworks of Design Thinking also. But how much accurate qualitative information can we really collect from these groups?

If you are going to use focus groups as part of your process there are a few things to remember:

1. Focus groups should be used to help refine a concept. They will not help you find an innovative idea.
2. Focus groups are not always accurate as there is a dramatic influence from other participants of permeated thinking which puts the quality of the research into question.
3. Focus groups should ONLY be used for high level feedback.
4. Focus groups are used early on in the design process to validate initial assumptions. These could include ideas on potential product solutions and market segments.

So How Do We Conduct Focus Groups?

Always Begin With Really Drawing Out The Business Goals
What is the problem you are trying to solve? Who are you trying to help? What are the products you would like to offer? How do you think you might alleviate a human pain point? Once you have a clear list of business goals you will need to really identify why you are doing this research, and extract specific research questions that can help you validate these goals. For example, a business goal might be that you would like to create more of a connect with the millennial market to help reduce depression. This is a really nice goal and idea but who are these millennials? What are the smaller market segments you are talking to that have faced the problem of feeling unconnected and depressed? You might find in a small sample size that healthy fitness crazy millennials don’t really feel disconnected or depressed. And that will drive your research deeper.

Maintain Control Of The Group
Being a focus group moderator can be quite a daunting task for a newbie. Fear not. No-one takes offense to you gently pulling back the conversation to your research goals. I suggest that you also have a level two moderator – someone who is there for support incase discussions get intense or out of control. This can often happen when you are trying to solve a problem of a sensitive nature in different market segments. Perhaps one person wants a prayer room, and the other thinks it’s just a waste of space.

Framed Questions Make A World Of Difference
Without realising it humans being always want to close out a problem without really understanding it. This can be true of focus groups also. Instead of trying to find a definitive answer, look for ways to build question upon question to uncover the multiple layers of a problem. One person in your focus group might say that access to healthy food is easy, when in fact they do not even eat healthy food. It will be your job to probe further. And perhaps you then uncover that it is just too expensive for that market segment to buy health food on a continual basis.

Encourage Healthy Conversation
Do a round of introductions. They world is full of different people. Look and listen for the ones that seem confident enough to share their story initially, and use it as a base point to spark more conversation. This will set the tone. Then move your attention to the more introverted participants and probe. It could just begin with an open-ended question like ‘what’s your take on that?’ or ‘how might this have affected you?’

Bring In Variety
Try to pull in different market segments that are all interested in the topic at hand. For example, you are trying to create a business that helps the elderly find peace in the aging process. You will have to recruit people with disabilities, people who are lonely and whose kids live far away, people who have lost a spouse….you get the idea.

Allow Your Stakeholders To Be Part Of The Process
In focus groups information can be lost. Open up the conversation to your stakeholders by either asking them to observe the session in house, or use collaborative tools for video conferencing. They might pick up on something you don’t!

Focus groups as a form of R&D still have a place in the design process if you know how and when to use them. They can provide you with overarching feedback to refine a core concept to help you make strategic decisions in a cost effective, quick manner. They aren’t , however, a substitute for much deeper qualitative research where you can observe or interview users in their natural habitat for innovative idea generation.

Madhuri Rao
Founder & Chief
Design Strategy



With the rampant synergy in tech and business development, Zeitgeist takes a closer look at tech integrations that are going to become mainstream.

Artificial Intelligence

AI seems to be slowly but surely replacing jobs that require technical computation and data analysis to produce more human driven conclusions through apps, devices and platforms. AI cannot mimic the empathetic human brain just yet, but already has the capability to beat the human brain in playing a game. Libratus just beat top class human poker champions at their own game, just like Deepmind with chess. AI can now also mimic racial biases. On October 17th, 2017 Sophia was introduced – an AI bot that rose to fame by being introduced to the U.N. and acquiring citizenship in Saudi Arabia. She can imitate human expression, though she is still learning what these things mean. Research firm Gartner estimates that AI will eliminate 1.8 million jobs by 2020.

And then there is the eternal question – could AI ever replace humans altogether?


We all know that IoT (The Internet of Things) has been hugely disruptive. Connecting smart sensors to connected devices has created a huge way of convenience and control to the user. Today we are able to control a small light switch, or a large off site generator through virtual assistants like Google’s Alexa. But the real magic is just about to begin.

By combining Blockchain Technology with IoT, tech is going to see a new wave of security and services for businesses. API’s will very soon come in to connect different databases with different computer services. This will drive efficiency and competition. For example a BIoT innovation could be shipment tracking devices with sensors embedded in them for real time data. Imagine the impact of quality in our supply chains if we could track heat, time, and traffic to ensure that our vegetables got to us perfectly fresh!

BIoT will assure companies that their most valuable data will not be hacked – a huge upward move for security in businesses across the globe.

Li-Fi and AR

Augmented Reality will take centerstage this year. The rapid pace at which AR has taken off will allow people to shop for things that fit to size. Augmented mannequins will create a customised shopping experience where body types will be easily created to match your own, along with online inventory that will rival any online store.
In addition to this, Li-Fi, a new light-based data connection, will bring speeds up to 100 times faster than a 4G wi-fi connection.

The retail experience is rapidly changing for the consumer – online stores, watch out!


Fintech will soon take over traditional methods of paying for things. With social and mobile payments at your fingertips it only makes sense to focus on pushing these technologies further for more efficiency. Soon we will be able to scan our eyes through our smartphone to make a payment, eliminating the need for credit and debit cards altogether!

With Cryptocurrency and Blockchain creating further security in finance, it will be a matter of time before we make serious attempts to reduce the energy used in quantum computing and secure mining – investors get ready! This will in turn create financial incentives for all major retailers to move into Cryptocurrency and all their digital assets will begin to behave similarly to traditional methods of finance, payments, loans and credits, at a scalable cost.

The landscape for business today is fresh and exciting. Operational changes and business offerings are rapidly being driven to integrate progressive tech in order to stand apart from competition. Consumers – dabbling in some reading to equip you with what the future holds could stand to benefit you in more ways than one. Business owners – if you aren’t tech savvy yet, watch out, you have a hurricane coming your way!

Madhuri Rao
Founder and Chief
Design Strategy