What it is
A focus group is a moderated discussion that lasts about two hours and covers a range of pre-selected topics.
In traditional focus groups, a screened (qualified target audience) group of respondents gathers in the same room. A moderator guides the group through a loosely structured discussion that probes attitudes about a client's proposed products or services. The moderator is typically given a list of objectives or an anticipated outline. Additional questions might serve to initiate open-ended discussions.
When to use
Pro's / Gains
- Discover what users want/desire/belief
- Observe group dynamics and organizational issues
- Show users spontaneous reactions and ideas
Con's / Disadvantages
- Don’t trust what people say or pretend to do
- Possible bias through specialized groups
How to perform
- Select representative participants.
- Identify problem area (what you want to learn).
- Prepare a script for the moderator to follow.
- Hire a skilled moderator (facilitator).
- Allow flexibility during the test to keep the discussion flowing.
- Tape and/or observe the test.
- Create good notes of the test.
This is the first in a series of blogs describing User-centered Design Methods. My goal is to summarize my experience, insights and findings across multiple literature and compile them into easy and quick to digest pieces for you to consume. I want to encourage you to comment your own experiences and give me feedback on why your company applies certain methods differently or not at all or something else altogether.
I personally don't like the term Usability too much, it's an empty buzz word. It means SOMETHING to everybody but isn't scientific enough to be taken serious. It's often interpreted wrongly and purely misunderstood by most. It's kinda like Psychology, we know it is important to understand fundamental human behavior, their problems and remedies, but I wouldn't pay a dime to go to a Psychologist. But who knows, just as Psychology got its scientific relevance and acknowledgment - partly maybe through the 'invention' of the IQ - hopefully Usability rises up to similar levels (Jeff Sauro offers interesting metrics via SUM (Single Usability Metric).
That's why I like the term User-centered Design. It works wonders with Project Managers and the-like, probably because Design is such an important term in their daily work. And when asked about Usability testing I can conveniently point out that this is only one tool of many in my UCD toolbox. But the really important sales trick is to know which UCD method is best used at what time in the project management cycle.
The following chart compares the most common user-centered design methods, outlines their cost and shows when to use them:
Overview of user-centered design methods
|Method||Cost||Output||Sample Size||When to Use|
|Competitive Studies||Medium||Stat. & Non-Stat.||5||Requirements|
|Paper Prototyping||Medium||Stat. & Non-Stat.||5||Design|
|User Testing||Medium||Stat. & Non-Stat.||5||Design & Evaluation|
|Surveys||Low||Statistical||20+||Requirements & Evaluation|
|Interviews||High||Non-Statistical||3-5||Requirements & Evaluation|
|Server Traffic Log Analysis||Low||Statistical||n/a||Evaluation|
|Search Log Analysis||Low||Statistical||n/a||Evaluation|
Not long ago, after having completed a full project management cycle (requirements, design, implementation and evaluation) the PM proudly announced to perform a Focus Group with his stakeholders. Showing the ready application, he thought, would surely impress them and lead to valuable feedback for the next milestone. This impulse isn't uncommon but has to be fought before it becomes reality. Does he really want to produce MORE and EXPENSIVE requirements? Because that's the output of Focus Groups. Wouldn't he be better off running 2 iterations of User Testing to reveal usability issues or a Survey to receive input from outside the development environment?
- Competitive Studies
- Field Studies
- Heuristic Evaluation
- Paper Prototyping
- User Testing
- Server Traffic Log Analysis
- Search Log Analysis
- User Testing
- The Usability effort is NOT proportional to the size of the project. Bigger projects spend less percentage on UCD with same effort. Regardless, as a rule of thumb assign 10% of the projects budget for UCD.
- Faster iterations of prototype design require less testers
- Fidgeon, T.; User-centered design (UCD) - 6 methods; Nov. 2005; http://www.webcredible.co.uk/user-friendly-resources/web-usability/user-centered-design.shtml
- IBM; User-Centered Design Principles; https://www-01.ibm.com/software/ucd/
- Nielsen, J.; Field Studies Done Right: Fast and Observational; 01/20/2002; http://www.useit.com/alertbox/20020120.html
- Nielsen, J.; How Big is the Difference Between Websites; 01/19/2004; http://www.useit.com/alertbox/20040119.html
- Usability in Practice: Three-Day Intensive Camp; Nielsen, J. et. al.; April 2006; Proceeding, Usability Week 2006