Viewing studios have always proved an emotive topic, but just how have perceptions — and usage — changed over the past decade? Curious, In Brief trawled some of AQR’s members.

The responses revealed just as much about the varied nature of qualitative research, and the environments best suited for each type, as it did about the demands of clients. What did they want, over and above the basics? More. That could entail greater flexibility in terms of the accommodation (bigger rooms, breakout spaces, homelier/comfortable environment) but more often than not it would also require state-of-the-art technology (kit, good wifi and technical support).

Location and availability were key factors in 2006, but ten years on there is more focus on relaxing the respondents from the moment they arrive, with clients wanting to capture every sound — and facial expression — they make. Small wonder, then, that studios are investing so heavily in technology. In the US, meanwhile, some studios offer an enhanced client hospitality service, with a concierge for hotel booking, cabs and food.

The same studio names occur time and again, but even though all have their fans, none is perfect. Criticisms include stairs unsuitable for those with any kind of impairment, others where the research room is too hot, the client room freezing; and one makes terrible tea while another has no mobile signal. The ones who score highly are those who make the moderators feel valued, giving them nice presents at the end of the night because, when all’s said and done, it’s a people business.

When it comes to usage, though, views are split down the middle. There are those who say they use studios more than ever, but increasingly baulk at the prices charged, and others who say that the research they carry out no longer needs the structured surroundings and technical wizardry that is being introduced as standard because it is more workshop based.

The question is: will such polarised attitudes continue, or will research move to different types of venue where the client can get up close and personal to respondents? It’s going to be a fascinating one to watch.