Focus Groups

People at table in a focus group session

Focus groups can be an effective way to learn about the needs, perceptions, and preferences of your customers to inform product design. Usability focus groups are especially valuable for learning about the target audiences for a product. Focus groups are valuable at the idea stage of product development, when the group dynamics of people interacting and sparking ideas from one another will yield valuable insights.

Focus Groups Provide a Learning Experience

Focus groups are discussion and activity sessions with groups of 6 to 10 people who have similar characteristics. After an initial discussion, the group typically breaks into subgroups of 2 to 5 people. These subgroups explore a product in a co-discovery manner, each with a facilitator. The full group then reconvenes to discuss the participants’ experiences. We repeat this process with an appropriate number of groups to represent the target audiences for the product.

Because we observe the participants’ behavior with a product, our observations add validity to the data collected, because participants base their opinions on real product use rather than an imprecise (and invisible to researchers) image of how they might use the product.

A skilled facilitator creates an atmosphere where participants feel free to express diverse points of view, with no pressure to agree or support particular ideas. The goal of a focus group is to generate lots of interactions and ideas, not to reach consensus or make decisions. A skilled facilitator knows how to foster group discussion and individual contributions while managing session logistics.

Focus Groups and Data Collection

The data collected in focus groups is highly qualitative and not statistically meaningful. Although we observe some user task behavior, the task behavior is collaborative, and does not yield data on individual behavior or performance. Participants may complete short written questionnaires. That way, we can collect individual reactions and preferences on some issues, as well as opinion data across all participants.