Using Focus Groups for Peer Evaluation in Industrial Design Education

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Focus groups are widely used as a qualitative tool in social research and marketing research. Adaptations of focus group techniques have also been used by design teams at various stages in the product development process. Additionally, focus groups can be useful in the educational design studio setting as a means of engaging students in peer review. A focus group technique has been used with industrial design students at the University of New South Wales (UNSW) and was found to offer several benefits. The aim of adopting the focus group format discussed in this paper was to create a learning experience that resembles the way designers might encounter focus groups in industry. The technique involved students working in groups of about five, to which each student brought a design concept represented by a sketch model and some illustrations. Within each group students took turns at facilitating the discussion of another student’s work, using a given set of questions. The designer of the work being discussed was not permitted to speak until near the end of the discussion. Each project was discussed for about 15 minutes. Students have responded very positively to the focus group process they experienced in their design studio courses and there is evidence that design improvements resulted from the comments they received. The focus groups allowed students to gain more feedback and diversity of ideas than could be provided by tutors alone. An additional benefit is that the experience helped students develop skills for running their own focus group discussions in the future.
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Ward, Stephen
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