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September 30, 2020

6 ideation exercises for your focus groups

Focus groups, or consumer workshops, are the most suitable methodology for boosting creativity because they allow you to benefit from a group dynamic.

Before giving you some examples of exercises to offer during these workshops, we would like to remind you of the main rules to follow in order to maximize this dynamic and make the most of your focus group:

  • Number of people: Ideally, between 5 and 10 people. Beyond that, it becomes complicated for everyone to express themselves easily, and each profile is not used to its fullest potential.

  • Profile type: In focus groups, it is important to bring together profiles that are fairly similar in order to consolidate your insights, but above all so that the group effect works, and the dynamic can develop. For example, if you bring together businesswomen over 50 years old with male students, it is not certain that there will be a synergy.

  • Finally, as with any event, the first few moments are crucial. It is therefore important to devote a few minutes to icebreakers, so that participants are in a good state of mind afterwards. This consists of making people talk about an everyday subject, rather easily accessible, like vacations, hobbies, etc.

Now that your focus group is in the best condition, you can start to address your issue. This workshop format can be adapted for exploratory phases; understanding users, their behaviors, their views; because being in a group can help to open up the floor, and to more advanced phases of co-design

1. To explore your users' views and expectations

1. Magic potion or planet

These are projection exercises. Users will be asked to describe what their ideal service or product would look like, similar to a design exercise, or describe it as they see it now.

  • For magic potion, they will have to list all the ingredients of the corresponding recipe and the corresponding quantities. The fact that the exercise is in the form of a recipe makes it possible to approach the subject in a more casual way and thus remove barriers. The exercise can help prioritize certain elements to be added to an offer, or to identify areas that are too far behind in the brand image.

  • For planet, the exercise is quite similar but is more adapted to concept or brand perception, because it is about describing a universe. In case of a brand perception, we will ask the user to describe what the Apple planet would look like, for example, what the landscapes are like, the population, what language they speak, their jobs, etc.

    2. Bono's hats

This method takes its name from the person who developed it, Edward de Bono. The exercise consists of having 6 hats corresponding to different thought patterns:

  • the white hat for neutrality: it is about exposing figures, facts, everything that will be factual and objective.

  • the red hat for emotions: on the contrary, here you will let your intuitions and feelings express themselves.

  • the green hat is that of creativity: you can let out any idea, even the most extreme, without any barrier.

  • the black hat is that of pessimism: here you list all the obstacles and problems related to the subject.

  • the yellow hat for optimism: on the other hand, you will list all the positive aspects, opportunities, everything that makes or would make it a success.

  • and finally, the blue hat for organization: the idea here is to sort out what has been said, to select the most relevant ideas and aspects.

The objective is to make users think in steps according to the hat they are "wearing". There are two options:

  • The group can reflect together wearing the same hat, and then the hat changes for everyone. In this case, except for the blue hat that usually comes at the end, the order of the others can be changed according to the issue or the group.

  • Each member may represent a different hat in turn.

The purpose is to challenge one's thoughts, to force oneself to get out of one's usual way of thinking, which is specific to each person. When users wear a different hat, it also has the benefit of creating debate and confronting ideas. 

3. The Chinese portrait

Again, this is a typical projection exercise that allows us to ask users their views on a service, a product, a brand, but without asking them directly, which allows them to be more imaginative and to speak more freely.

The objective is, for example, to ask them "if this product was a celebrity, who would it be?" and then repeat the question with, for example, "an animal", "a place", "an era", "a musical style", etc. You can then make the users react on their answers and make them find the common features in a more specific way related to your topic, or do this analysis work yourself after the group. 

2. To design with your users

1. The crazy 8's

The crazy 8's is a very visual exercise that will lead users to draw. Each user will have a sheet of paper with 8 boxes. In each box, the user will have to draw a different solution to answer the same problem. It can be an interface, a single feature, a product, but also the visualization of a service.

Users have a set time to draw their 8 versions of solutions, usually 8 minutes. At the end of this time, everyone submits their sketches, then selects 2 or 3 paths to develop. Again, a time will be set for each person to refine their selected ideas, then all participants will vote for the best solutions among the whole group.

Photo by Sarah Pflug from Burst


2. Brainwriting

Each participant has a sheet of paper and will have to write down 3 ideas in 5 minutes. He will then pass the paper to his neighbor, who in turn will have to write down 3 ideas, etc. This allows to generate a large number of ideas in a short time.

Another version of this exercise is to develop ideas in a collective way. This time, each user will write down a single idea, then pass the sheet to his neighbor, who will have to develop it by answering for example the question "how". This version generates fewer ideas but allows each user to reflect on the ideas of others and to move forward in a specific way on different possibilities. It can be entirely done following the first method, after selecting the best ideas generated. 

3. Moodboard

And finally, the moodboard, or collage technique, can be used to express a view, a feeling, as well as formalize expectations about an offer and to imagine what it could look like or correspond to.

The moderator should prepare a large quantity of visuals, between 200 and 300 for a group of 8 people. These visuals should be very different and represent landscapes, characters, or objects. It is also possible to bring in magazines and let the participants choose their visuals from them.

Each user will then have to select between 5 and 10 visuals and, organize them on a sheet of paper in such a way that it illustrates their opinion and feelings about the subject.

This exercise is usually much appreciated by participants who can express their creativity, but also by stakeholders who like the "wow" effect of the visuals.



These are just a few exercises, but there are obviously many others. LEGO® SERIOUS PLAY® for example, is another particularly interesting method to use in a workshop. You can find more details about this method in this article.


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Anais Valentin

Anais Valentin

Anais is Marketing manager and leverages her expérience as UX Researcher to evangelize all-things UX related.
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