Focus groups are for mugs
Unfortunately your product doesn’t work
Something for the Weekend, Sir? Journalists can be a contrary lot and IT journalists are no exception. Whatever we get asked to test and review, we’re never really happy with it. But that’s OK because the manufacturers and their PR companies, and often the readers too, are never happy with what we write either.
While the risks that IT journalists run tend to be legal and financial rather than that of physical violence (remember Sid Vicious’ bicycle-chain attack on legendary NME journalist Nick Kent?), we do try to think before writing. So it was with some nostalgia that I found myself fiddling with a rubber port cover on an old notebook the other day.
Why nostalgia? Because these port covers have all but vanished from today’s products. Back in the day, we journalists who wrote about laptops, palmtops, cameras and so on used to go on about these little buggers all the time. No port cover = bad (dirt and rain will get in). Plastic flap cover = bad (it will snap off). Rubber plug cover = bad (it will fall off and be lost). Tethered rubber cover = bad (fiddly, gets in the way).
Practical design? Maybe the Apple Newton Message Pad wasn't but the power and serial port covers seemed sensible
It seems that in the end, manufacturers gave up, showed us two fingers and dispensed with the idea of port covers altogether. At first, I imagined this was because it doesn’t rain so much, or perhaps we live in a cleaner environment or that notebook suppliers always include a sleeve in the price. Ha ha, my little joke.
Someone must have made the decision, though. Was it the result of focus groups?
Steve Jobs was much quoted on this subject (“It's really hard to design products by focus groups” – Steve Jobs in BusinessWeek, 1998). Having once been invited to sit behind a two-way mirror during a magazine focus group, I can appreciate his policy.
Opinions matter: an intern gets quizzed on light sabre colour preferences
Everyone has a strong opinion that they believe holds more gravity than anyone else’s; indeed that any other opinion expressed by other people is not really a valid opinion at all but a mere ‘rant’ or a ‘whine’. When they respond to questions, focus-group invitees deliver rambling speeches or enigmatic one-liners. Gather these people together in a room and it’s like herding Yodas.
Next page: Listening skills
Ask and ye shall receive
It's not just focus groups, sending documents out for review is just as bad.
Possibly the worst aspect of "processes" in business is the number of people who wish to review, approve or be FYI'd on documents that are, essentially, none of their dam' business. Mostly it's just to pad out their days (shades of: "why don't estate agents look out the window in the morning? Then they'd have nothing to do in the afternoon") with the illusion of activity.
However, once these people get a copy of a document, they feel the need to suggest changes - whether they know anything about the subject or not. One boss I had made it his policy to require at least one change to every circuit diagram he reviewed - just to show that he'd examined it. This was a long, long time before Dilbert and PHBs. After all these induhviduals have suggested their changes (none of which are returned until the deadline), there then follows a period of argumentation regarding why you chose to ignore their "input" and the inevitable politicking if you happened to point out an error in one of their documents - expect the favour to be returned in spades.
I now adopt a policy of NOT circulating proposals, papers or designs whenever possible and everyone seems happier for it (though not as busy as they'd like to appear). I reckon focus groups act the same way - if they always said "yup, that's fine" there would be a feeling that their time had been wasted - that they hadn't exercised their "right" to an opinion. Maybe the secret is in the questions they are asked. If instead of open-ended critiques, focus groups or approvers were asked specific, if diversionary, questions about particular aspects: do you prefer X or Y? then it would be easier to obsfucate the responses and come up with exactly what you intended to in the first place.
After all: you can't please everyone, so you've got to please yourself.
Re: I think the cover on the Lumia 800
>on the othe hand 6 or 7 times? how do charge your phone then?
He's only had it one day, give him a chance. That's a pretty good battery life for a smartphone.
Why I attended focus groups...
1. Free food and drink
3. To figure out who the client was and to mess with the results.
Re: is the bloody thing solving a users problem ?
You make the classic mistake of assuming that most of this kit is designed to be used. It's not. It's designed to be sold.
I think the cover on the Lumia 800
is pretty good and can't see what ll the fuss is about. I've only opened and closed it maybe 6 or seven times, so it's hardly going to wear out and when it is open I just take care not to break it. When it is closed it keeps the crap out and covers what it is supposed to cover. I hate he rubber bungs that some devices have and thought that Nokia had come up with a good design.
Their crowd source design experiment a couple of years back was a bit silly though as it just gave 3 designs that they used anyway and obviously people picked the newest one. As others have said, as long as it does what it says on the tin, I'm happy.