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Focus Groups: Are They Right for You?

A DOD focus group.

The short answer is: it depends on your goals. If you Google “focus group,” you will have a host of positive and negative feedback, but the truth is that it depends on what your needs are.

What Is a Focus Group?

Focus groups are an inexpensive way to identify people’s preferences, motivations, thoughts, feelings and attitude towards a product or service. In a typical focus group, approximately 6 to 10 people spend 60 to 90 minutes voicing their opinions about your website or application. They differ from usability studies in that they show participants’ attitudes towards a particular item, whereas usability studies reveal how things are used.

What they’re good for What they are not
  • Getting a lot of feedback quickly, early in a project, and possibly to determine if the project is viable
  • Revealing attitudes
  • Producing qualitative results
  • When you want to find out what you don’t know
  • They are not usability studies and will not reveal problems with your website or application
  • The last word on how users feel about your product (This is because one participant can influence the entire group.)
Advantages Disadvantages
  • Inexpensive and easy
  • Great for getting firsthand perspectives
  • Reveals information that otherwise may have gone undiscovered
  • People often build on each other’s thoughts, creating a rich understanding and new ideas
  • Clarifies misunderstandings
  • Appropriate for exploring unknown territory
  • A few strong personalities may influence the entire group
  • Statistically, may not always represent an entire community
  • May be difficult to find participants (recruitment)

When to Use

Conducting a focus group early in a project is a way to get a sample of opinions. It is also helpful to conduct a focus group towards the end of a project, when you want to check in about meeting your goals.

After Conducting Your Focus Group

Once you have completed your focus group, validate and explore results with users one-on-one by conducting user research interviews and usability studies. Focus groups are considered a good start to triangulation, which is the practice of combining different methods of research to develop a complete picture of your user and the challenges they have using your product.

If you have decided that conducting a focus group is a good idea for your project, the following resources will make you a focus group ninja:

  • Focus Group Manual [PDF]: A step-by-step guide to conducting a focus group.
  • Screener [PDF]: A template designed to aid you through the recruitment process.
  • CheckList [PDF]: A printable Word document to use on the day of your focus group, to make sure you don’t forget anything.
  • Quiz [PDF]: A fun way to test your knowledge.

Finally, in our Usability Starter Kit, you can find a script to use for your focus group and a presentation on focus groups.

Stacey Sarris is a UX consultant and adjunct professor at Pace University, doctoral candidate at University of Baltimore’s Information and Interaction Design program, and was a UX intern at GSA.

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