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Very interesting. Despite dubious results from previous focus group research, I was about to consider briefing again on a new project. Now I am left wondering what to do! Do I run with conventional focus groups, despite their limitations? What alternative methodologies are available that attempt to solve the issues raised?
Thanks for your comment. Our recommendation is to try, wherever possible, to use methods that collect behavioural data that can be objectively verified - or at least data that are not speculative, on-the-fly opinions, or responses that are influenced by group dynamics. Usually these involve observing people as they work or are engaged in the kind of activity you are focused on, but they can also include interviews carried out in the context of observing a customer. An emerging group of techniques that avoid many of the problems inherent in focus groups, and that are increasingly being used in their place, are those designed to capture implicit, rather than explicit, responses. The Implicit Association Test is one example of such a method. These methods, which do not rely on overt questioning, are often used to reveal people's attitudes towards a brand or a product.
One useful way of identifying an appropriate method is to consider the user-centered design lifecycle and to identify where you are in the process. You will need exploratory methods (such as field visits, contextual enquiry, methods that borrow from ethnography) if you want to better characterise your customers and identify their needs and possible product opportunities, or even a well constructed survey (if you are unsure of the initial direction). Once in an iterative design cycle you will need methods for evaluating a product's usability (such as structured expert usability reviews, and both formative and summative usability testing). Usability testing an existing system or product is also an effective way to discover unmet customer needs. There is a list of user research methods on this web site that you may find useful. Feel free to contact us if you would like to discuss the most appropriate method for a given research question.
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