WHAT IS IT?
A focus group is simply a structured interview or a workshop with a group of users.It is an informal technique that can help you assess user needs and feelings both before interface design and long after implementation. In a focus group, you bring together 6–9 users to discuss issues and concerns about the features of a user interface. The group typically lasts about 2 hours and is run by a moderator who maintains the group’s focus. The moderator will pose questions from a script to the group. Their answers are recorded, sometimes by the moderator sometimes by an observer or observers, and then analyzed and reported on at the end of the process.
WHEN TO BE USED?
Most focus groups are used in the early part of the user experience research lifecycle. They are also commonly used when redesigning or updating your product. They help highlight some of the problems/joys that users encounter with either your product or competitor’s products. It is a good idea, in most cases, to treat focus group data as a starting point in your research, and to try and verify the outcomes of your focus group using other means (such as surveys or usability tests).
Focus groups often provide a brainstorming environment for users to come up with new ideas for improvements to your product.
HOW TO CONDUCT A FOCUS GROUP?
- Planning- The moderator should prepare a script or list of issues, which need to be tackled. It is wise not to be too prescriptive, to allow spontaneity in the group. A focus group session should feel free-flowing and relatively unstructured.
Meetings should last between 1 to 2 hours. Try to avoid selecting all the participants from the same department or neighborhood. Diversity is useful. Usually, about 6 to 9 users participate in any one focus group meeting session. A selection of users should be individually invited to each focus group session. The invitation should explain that this is to a focus group, and if necessary, a few words about what will be discussed and what the format of a focus group meeting is. Hospitality may be offered (e.g. tea or coffee). A video, a short demonstration, or putting on the table examples of artifacts relevant to the focus group topic may be used to start the discussion.
It is important to run more than one focus group to see if the question set is delivering consistent responses and, in many cases, to ensure a representative sample of users is being worked with.
- Conducting- Conducting a focus group is simply a matter of asking the questions and recording the responses to those questions. However, there are some tips for facilitating high-quality focus groups:
- The moderator should begin by explaining the purpose of the group and what is expected of the group.
- They should also address the question of how any data collected or personal data will be used and how it won’t be used.
- Name badges can help participants talk to each other and to the moderator.
- It can be a good idea to carry out an “icebreaker” exercise which frees people up to talk prior to engaging with scripted questions.
- The moderator should not be tasked with note-taking. Ideally, one or two observers will do this – they should be introduced to the group and their roles explained as part of the introduction.
- If video or audio recording is to be used – this should be explained in the introduction too
- Refreshments should be made available and if the focus group sessions are lengthy – regular comfort breaks should be given
- The moderator should try to establish a permissive environment in which everyone feels free to contribute
- If a participant or participants begin to dominate proceedings – the moderator should gently encourage others to get involved and rein in the dominant participant(s)
- The moderator should sum up important points at convenient moments and ensure that they have understood them
- If the session goes for a long period of time – it’s important to vary the question and answer style script with other exercises (for example card sorting, role-playing or picture drawing)
- The moderator’s job is to progress the discussion and to facilitate it and not to participate in the discussion itself
- The moderator may probe for understanding if they feel that someone is on the verge of an important insight
- The moderator (with the observers) should lead a summary exercise at the end to summarize key themes, check for understanding and ask any questions that the observers feel would be useful
- Analyzing- Individual focus groups are best analyzed immediately after they finish. It’s when things are freshest in the minds of the moderator and the observers. Other participants may be brought in to the analysis and videos/audios reviewed during that process. If possible, a transcript of the audio may be useful to prepare for later analysis at the same time.
A simple report should be made of key findings after an individual focus group. Once all your focus groups are complete – it’s time to do a meta-analysis. Key themes and ideas from all reports should be brought together. Compare and contrast exercises should be carried out between groups. Diagrams that help aid understanding of the data can be prepared. Then a report describing the overall findings should be written and issued to those who need it.
Things to consider when analyzing focus groups include:
- Words: How are they used, what do they mean, are there similarities between participants or different groups?
- Context: What happened to trigger a particular response?
- Consistency: Was the participant consistent throughout or did other group members influence them?
- The frequency of participation: Did someone dominate the discussion (it’s not always obvious even when the discussion is heavily moderated)?
- Intensity: What was the intensity of feeling put into particular comments? Things that really matter tend to make people passionate, happy, angry, etc.
- Specificity: How specific was someone’s comment? How much detail did someone give when probed for a response?
- What comments were made most often? What comments occurred least?
- Were there any comments you expected but which didn’t occur?
One final thing; it’s easy to get too focused on fine detail when analyzing the outputs from lots of focus groups. It can be useful to take a day’s break (or more) from the data once you’ve done the initial analysis and then come back and look for any “big ideas” which got bogged down in the detail.
Conducting focus groups is easy as long as you have a good moderator and observers. They are relatively expensive to conduct because of the number of participants involved. The opinions generated in these groups are great for generating ideas, but they are rarely statistically representative of your whole user base either. Always do a little more research before interpreting results.