Artfocus: Creating the Customer Connection Through Art and Objects

By Kevin Miller


Over the years, Innovation Focus moderators have facilitated scores of consumer invention sessions which look like focus groups on the surface, but appearances can be deceiving. We have always believed that consumers have the creative power to define their needs and invent the next generation of products and services right alongside the best marketing and technology teams.

How do we quickly move consumers past their natural shyness into an enthusiastic and passionate expression of their needs and wishes for solving these needs? We do it by following some simple guidelines making use of both art and objects.

  1. Construct a climate for creativity with toys, art and music. Toys, posters, balloons all announce to participants that this is going to be a fun and friendly experience.
  2. Declare an “Idea Safety Zone.” Make it axiomatic that all innovators are created equal and all ideas are acceptable. Codify the rules for brainstorming and present them in bright and colorful posters.
  3. Describe, explain and demonstrate what the task is, using both words and pictures. Between 25% and 50% of people think visually rather than verbally, so the use of art is essential. Picture example ideas for consumers to build on that point them in a general direction without being too specific or constricting.
  4. Ask them to bring personal photos and objects to introduce themselves to the group. A personal climate setter helps people affiliate quickly. They will feel comfortable giving “out-of-the-box” ideas once they have laughed and groaned over common life experiences.
  5. Write down all their ideas, needs, complaints and wishes as they say them. Letting them see their ideas take shape immediately communicates that we are listening and value what they say.
  6. Empower them to participate in selecting and developing leading ideas into more detailed concepts. I like to think of a “concept sheet” as an officially sanctioned “half-baked” idea – a tool for helping creators nurture a fragile wish for more concreteness and robustness.
  7. Draw rapid image logos to symbolize each of those concepts. These pictures help our minds retrieve and sort information. In fact, the moment a picture is drawn to represent a concept, people begin to feel that it is beginning to manifest in some concrete sense.
  8. Invite consumers to create a visual portfolio of their recommendations using the logo art to represent concepts.
  9. Create more polished concept art boards and written descriptions after the professional team has defined its final portfolio and identified the most evolved form of each chosen concept. It is important to preserve the “fuzzy front end” nature of these drawings. We want to point the consumers in the general direction of our thinking to find out if they will confirm each concept in its original form or reinvent it in a new way.
  10. Allow consumers to surprise you in confirmation groups. They may want to repaint the picture from a whole new angle.

Images not only help to set a climate for creativity, they also serve as powerful carriers of condensed information which can help consumers understand, retain, sort and communicate complex concepts. Art is the universal language of condensed ideas. It is a potent tool for understanding compelling consumer needs and developing real solutions to serve them.

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