Tag Archives: vision

Why Spice Girls are a poor choice for a new product focus group

Spice Girls

Here is how I imagine the conversation would go:

Me: So tell me what you want, what you really, really want?

Them: I’ll tell you what I want what I really, really want.*

A lot of your customers and users will be a lot like Spice Girls. I don’t mean cute and bubbly but rather fixated on their most obvious and most, ahem, basic needs, which means that they are unlikely to ponder far-fetched possibilities or to provide you with unanticipated insights on the spot. This is not because focus groups can’t brainstorm — they are just not primed to think out of the box like product designers are paid to do. The results of such a focus group exercise are bound to be predictable and boring, and they will most likely agree with what you already know about your potential users and market.

Now consider our effort to poll people about our future startup’s name (you can see how that went here). LikeWisely was my top choice, but the multiple levels of meaning and the play on words was not well-received, probably because these things are not on the surface as they are with just❤liked, which is much more literal. In the end we accepted that just❤liked was a decent choice appealing to a large segment of the audience but perhaps a choice lacking in imagination and finesse.

The point is not to offend Spice Girls in particular or focus groups in general. The point is that, despite your best intentions, good product ideas cannot be pried from any perfectly informed and sensible focus group. The good news is that you get to keep your job. The bad news is that you, the product designer, still have to come up with great ideas, convert them to hypotheses that can be validated on a set of flesh and blood users, and validate them. At no point should you suffer the illusion that what you get back will be informed by the audience’s imagination or their desire to find a solution to the problem.

You’d be lucky enough to get back another grumble about zig-ah-zig-ah*.


Getting your first convert

I am a skeptic by nature. I seek and find flaws in people logic and arguments. I know this about myself and I fight to keep the criticism on the constructive side. I don’t think there are ever antisocial or egocentric undertones to it, but I can be arrogant and self-righteous when defending my point of view. Nobody is perfect.

When my future co-founder came calling with the original concept and idea, I immediately went to work trying to shred it apart. Not overtly, of course, but more by running through different scenarios in my head. Surprisingly, and this doesn’t happen too often, I was convinced fairly quickly. This was before we started doing research on the competitors, but that’s another story.

In any case, it won me over. There was just this personal belief that a) people needed this, and b) that it could be done easily and cheaply. That’s not a pre-requisite for startup success, mind you, but it was already something I was willing to invest my time in, and more importantly something I would be eager to use once it’s built.

If things didn’t work out, at least we’d still have the system all to ourselves. I think that’s one of the advantages of building something for consumers vs. building something for the enterprise. You can always be your own focus group and your own customer. Yes, the risks for bias are also high, but at least you know if something doesn’t feel right at the gut level it probably isn’t.

It felt right.