Time to Retire the Two Way Mirror?

A hallmark of focus group facilities is the two way mirror. Clients sit in the dark, behind the mirror, observing the discussions taking place on the other side of the mirror in the focus group room.

Question is, in these days when video technology makes filming and showing our discussions so easy, is there a reason to continue with the set-up that has been in place seemingly forever?

In my opinion, no. There are significant benefits to doing research without a two way mirror in the room.

  1. Observers don’t have to sit in the dark. It is depressing, tiring, and soul-sucking to have to be in the dark for hours at a time. And given that we often schedule 6-8 hours of interviewing a day, for multiple days, that’s a lot of darkness. People will be more alive, alert, fresh, and even happy if they can see light and even sunlight. My clients can’t help but do even better listening, observing and thinking if they’re not so tired and darkened.
  2. Second, observers can talk more, and react more if they are not behind the mirror. If observers are watching the interviews remotely, they do not need to be as silent as if they are right behind the mirror. So they can react to the discussion, even at loud volumes. And that, too, can help thinking.
  3. Those of us in the room doing the research can have a better experience if we’re not constrained by having that mirror. The room can be lit less garishly. I can even turn the lights down low when I’m doing certain exercises with respondents. And without a mirror, my respondents cannot be distracted by watching themselves or others in the mirror, or by trying to see the movement and light behind the mirror. Their attention stays more present.

I’m all for having my clients with me in the research facility, watching what’s happening in real time, and giving me feedback and discussing what we’re hearing in person. And we can do that if my clients are in a lovely room with windows, watching the research on a big screen, perhaps with other screens that show close-ups of the respondents. (There are some facilities that have multiple cameras in the research room, so observers can see split screen shots of individual respondents as well as the whole group.)

So yes, please – retire the mirror. I will be searching for more facilities that have moved on from the mirror, giving us all a better research experience.


KGF Insights
9567 Poole Street
La Jolla, CA 92037

T: 619.990.9345