Friday, July 20, 2007

The customer can have it in any shade of black

I recently gained some insight from overseeing some focus groups for a rebranding project that I'd like to share before I drink too much and damage the part of my brain retaining these thoughts.

Focus groups have their value. Sure, they're a powerful way to have ideas evaluated or test concepts, but more importantly they remind us we are not dealing with people like ourselves. This is important to remember. We take for granted that most target markets can think easily in metaphors, analogies and visual associations.

It's a refreshing reality check when you review a more 'blue collar' demographic and realise that the average joe doesn't think like you at all. Running some colour associations provided a very literal insight from the groups such as blue is the sky and green is nature. Nothing spectacularly surprising there but any other associations outside of those immediate links were found to be too complex.

For example, when I asked whether blue could be a existential metaphor for the collapse of modernism in a post-modernism content brought on by an intangible shift in cultural perceptions relating to bias derived from contemporary mediums utilising viral marketing techniques to infiltrate online guerilla tribes ... one of them clutched their head and dropped dead. Simple enough to me and you, but hey, not everyone grasps the semiotics of soap bubbles.

It reminds me that Tibor Kalman recommended learning all associative cliches you can simply because people respond so powerfully to them. Essentially, by over-intellectualising the issue with complex or slightly 'high-brow' design solutions, we sometimes alienate the very people who we are trying to reach. We are not designing for ourselves! (although this doesn't mean we should all start using comic sans, the font gods still get angry and make you do annual reports for the rest of eternity to repent).

It's also not to say we shouldn't continue looking for fresh and innovative new ways to communicate common ideas, but it is easy to get too clever and forget who we are talking to. If you were asked to design something for children, you would design appropriately and simply, so why is it we often design up when dealing with an adult crowd and expect them to match our level of understanding.

A good designer should always keep in mind the audience and design appropriately, in essence 'playing to their level'. You can still create beautiful design solutions that communicate a strong and easily understood message.

Another point I'd like to mention is the importance of noting the respondant's physical and emotional states during the time of testing.

I have found in particular, people under the influence of illicit drugs may skew your results. The example I'll discuss briefly here involved a number of young men aged between 18 - 25 who were participating in a focus group researching concepts for an existing product being rebranded.

Whilst the client and I sat behind some one-way glass, the moderator took this group through an introduction to the existing packaging before presenting a range of new pack options. Clearly stoned off their heads, I was forced to deem their colour choices invalid after they expressed a preference for tones that reminded them of food. One conversation went like this :

– I like the green pack
– Yeah, the apple green pack
– Yeah, yeah! It is apple green!
– Man, I'm so hungry right now
– So am I man, I like that pack too. I like the crunchy juicy apple green pack ... mmm
– Can we get some food?
– Yeah! Pay us in apples!

They may have won my respect and admiration, but unfortunately lost their chance to affect the data ... and when that happens, we all lose. Because the data comes first my friends ... the data must come first.

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