At a qualitative research conference a while back, I attended a session on using games to support innovation. The people you see above are other researchers, holding up their "product box". [Sorry the pics are so small, all I had was the camera phone. And it's taken me this long to get the darn pics out of the phone, but that's another story!]
This method was laid out in Luke Hohmann's book, Innovation Games, and this was a nice chance to see it in action. Tables were given lots of materials to work with, and a plain white box. The task was to create a box for an alarm clock that they would like to buy.
Participants came up with lots of interesting ideas. For example, at my table we wanted an alarm clock that knows what time it is, just like a cell-phone does. A smart clock.
Many people mentioned Apple inspired design -- features and controls so easy to use you don't actually need to read the manual, because it's intuitive. Can you tell that this group spends a lot of time in hotel rooms, trying to set yet another clock radio, or figure out what the current local time is?
What I found especially interesting about the exercise was that the room seemed to divide into two larger groups: those who were concerned about clock functionality, and those concerned about managing the morning mood and ambiance. Could these be segments, I wonder?
During the debrief, the facilitators asked multiple questions of each spokesperson, to uncover the needs and ideas around the benefits sought.
You'll find lots of people who will tell you that "focus groups can't lead to innovation", and other blah, blah of that nature. I say it depends a lot on who is running the event. If you ask customers literally "what should we do?", you may not get that much you can use.
But the joy of this exercise was that it focused people on unmet needs, and benefits they would derive from the features they proposed. A development team could definitely learn a lot from the output of that. And the act of creating the box helped all of us get past "design issues" and focus on what we'd really love to have.
Summary of keynote speaker Paco Underhill from the same conference, talking about global trends in retail.
This method first came to my attention through Luke Hohmann's book, Innovation Games.