A grounded qualitative analysis of the effect of a focus group on design process in a virtual internship*

Matthew R. Markovetz, Sean Sullivan, Renee M. Clark, Zachari Swiecki, Golnaz Arastoopour Irgens, David W. Shaffer, Naomi C. Chesler, Cheryl A. Bodnar

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review


A key component associated with the development of an entrepreneurial mindset is the ability to understand customer
needs and consider this when developing a product. This study sought to understand whether the inclusion of a customer
focus group as part of a virtual internship created any differences in the design processes of sophomore engineering
students (114 students). The Nephrotex virtual internship requires that students design a dialysis membrane by optimizing
a selection of four components: membrane polymer, polymerization process, processing surfactant, and carbon nanotube
percentage. We found that sophomores who engaged in a focus group during the virtual internship Nephrotex showed
(statistically) equal focus on cost versus technical measures of design performance during the focus group. Despite this,
design cost was lower in the section that participated in a focus group, with no decrease in product quality. This indicates
that customer voice may be an important factor in decreasing product cost. We also found that sophomore students
prioritized their interviewing of customers within the focus group towards end users, such as the patient and nephrologist.
Qualitative analysis of sophomore responses demonstrated that they found utility in the focus group (30% of participants)
but did not necessarily believe that the customers had useful knowledge of the relevant design attributes (17% of
participants). Such realizations may have contributed to the equivalent quality and decreased costs associated with the
designs of sophomores who participated in a focus group.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1834–1841
Number of pages8
JournalInternational Journal of Engineering Education
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2017
Externally publishedYes


  • virtual internships
  • customer voice
  • customer needs
  • design process

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