Focus Groups + Innovation        

How Focus Groups Kill Innovation

January 9, 2015

We all know people that have gathered around a table sharing ideas about the biggest and greatest invention that they will design/create? Companies use focus groups to help them develop and innovate ideas for products that they think people will love. However, more often than not, focus groups undermine what companies are actually trying to accomplish when designing products to market. Focus groups kill innovation, for the sole purpose, of they do not understand or experience the product beforehand. They can add improvements to an already existing product they use, but for those ideas that could be a game changer for a specific industry, doubt and skepticism are casted due to unfamiliarity.

Reebok was pitched an idea for a new basketball shoe that would use inflated air that would support the ankle better, which would reduce injuries to basketball players. Due to the unfamiliarity of the idea, the brand manager wasn’t interested because focus groups said they didn’t have a need for it, along with proposing the idea to basketball team, who had no interest in the idea either. However, when the model was produced, basketball players were won over by how the shoe was form fitting to their feet, along with not having as many injuries.


Along with the Reebok basketball shoe, the same idea happened when Herman Miller presented his first mesh chair. Before he revealed his mesh chair design, office chairs were made with lots of padding. The look of the mesh chair was one that looked ugly and uncomfortable to some, but through experience, people realized how much of a better style this was, in terms of comfort and style. Now, the mesh chair is the go-to style when it comes to picking out office furniture.


Consider these ideas, along with organizing a focus group for when a new product is released to the market.

1. Consider the total experience of using a product, not just the act of using it.

2. Look beyond the lines of what is obvious to the eye.

3. Test new products where you would be using them.

4. Invest in those who recognize the importance of taking a risk to succeed.

Focus groups can be beneficial and insightful for products in the short-term realm. However, true innovation is more than just an improvement that takes time, it is about developing and fine tuning a product or service for the user experience. The innovation behind the product is what can make a change in the user’s life. Sometimes, designers are asked to improve or better products, and other times, designers are asked to make revolutionary products that can make companies think about the paradigm of an idea, making it larger than life. We do that here at Beyond Design. To read the full article, click here.

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