Yaroslav Malymon Yaroslav Malymon is a lifelong entrepreneur who specializes in search optimization, content marketing, and user experience. He has over 5 years of experience in a data-driven approach to strategic product planning and team leading to support accelerated business growth. Contact Yaroslav via LinkedIn.

Conducting a focus group for UX research

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Focus Group

UX focus groups are an essential part of product design, allowing designers and developers to gather valuable insights into the needs and preferences of their target audience.

By bringing together a group of individuals who represent the user base, the UX team can observe their behavior, listen to their feedback, and gain a deeper understanding of their needs and preferences.

Conducting UX focus groups can provide numerous benefits, including identifying usability issues, gaining insights into user behavior, and generating ideas for product improvement.

However, to ensure the success of a focus group, you’ll need to carefully plan your group and select the right participants.

By the end of this guide, you’ll have a solid understanding of the importance of UX focus groups, how to plan, set up, and conduct them effectively, and how to use the data gathered for the greatest benefits.

Introduction to UX focus groups and their importance in product design

Focus groups allow for drawing out ideas and information that may not be easily shared in interviews or surveys. As a somewhat informal technique, they can assess user needs and feelings both before and after interface design.

Focus groups generate qualitative data in the form of notes, transcripts, audio, and video recordings, which can be synthesized into recommendations for product directions or opportunities.

Typically consisting of 5–10 users and lasting about two hours, focus groups are moderated to maintain focus. They can elicit spontaneous reactions, ideas, and group dynamics, and can explore activities that span over a longer time period, which may be expensive to observe directly. The dynamics among group members can reveal unconscious ideas your team has taken for granted, and their reactions can shed light on important considerations for development teams.

Unlike interviews, the value of focus groups lies in group discussion and interactions among members. However, there is a risk of participants influencing each other or inhibiting honest feedback.

Therefore, it’s important to supplement focus groups with direct observation of individual users because there may be differences between what people say and what they actually do, which is also an important consideration for a UX design team.

Types of focus groups

In the field of UX research, focus groups serve a different purpose compared to traditional market research focus groups.

While the latter aims to gather feedback on product ideas and determine their value to target customers, UX research focus groups implement user testing to identify opportunities for improvement in specific elements, aspects, or behaviors of a product or feature. So, to get the data you need, you might need to decide which type of focus group you should go with, be it an online or in-person focus group.

Online focus groups

Online focus groups offer convenience but may exclude some potential participants due to poor internet connection, lack of a desktop device, or limited digital literacy. This could result in lower participation rates or difficulties in using unfamiliar online meeting tools or whiteboard platforms.

Online focus groups might be better when the budget is tight because skips the need to rent a place to gather, pay for catering, cover travel costs, and so on. More importantly, if there is a need to check the website or app prototype and gather data on it from different regions, it might be more convenient to use online focus groups.

In-person focus groups

In-person focus groups are limited to participants within a commutable distance, particularly if the study does not provide travel funding or adequate notice for those commuting from further away. Any shortcomings of in-person focus groups can be overridden with money, but the costs may skyrocket.

On the other hand, when a UX team needs to gather data on the user using one prototype, like a specific device with an app on it, the in-person interview might be the only option.

For example, if you have your first prototype of VR glasses and you want to check how users interact with its interface and how they use it, you will need to bring everyone together to try it because they won’t be able to test it at home.

What are the benefits of conducting UX focus groups

  • Focus groups are a good way to draw out ideas and information that participants may not be willing or able to share in an interview or survey
  • Being in a small group setting makes people more comfortable and encourages them to discuss sensitive or personal topics
  • Focus groups can uncover ideas that were previously unconscious and shed light on the importance of certain considerations
  • They are straightforward to organize, usually inexpensive, and provide immediate results
  • Results are often more appealing than raw data and provide extensive interaction among participants
  • Moderators guide the discussion according to research objectives, and the process can be observed in real-time

How to choose focus group participants

Recruiting participants for a focus group involves identifying the individuals who can answer your research questions. For early-stage development, highly diverse individuals are preferred within the target market.

Screener surveys should focus on filtering participants based on traits that are relevant to the research question, rather than just demographics. Online communities can be a cheaper way to generate discussion and get in touch with appropriate users.

To create a balanced group, it is important to consider introverted and extroverted participants and conduct a group with only self-identified introverts if necessary.

When recruiting, researchers should select participants based on specific traits or characteristics, such as age, occupation, experience, education, and ethnicity. The ultimate goal is to get feedback from the target audience/demographics that might benefit the UX research the most.

Planning and setting up a successful focus group

To plan and execute a successful focus group, it’s crucial to prepare in advance by ensuring all logistics are in place, such as writing materials, user devices, and recording equipment.

Making participants feel comfortable is key, so greet them warmly and provide refreshments and necessary tools like pens and paper or internet access.

Before deciding on a focus group study, ensure it’s the right method to meet your research goals, which should be specific, practical, and actionable. The location of the group will impact group dynamics, so choose a comfortable, distraction-free space that mimics where participants typically discuss the subject matter.

Group size affects the discussion, so aim for 5 to 10 participants and conduct 3 to 6 groups depending on your study requirements.

Communicate effectively with participants, including sending them clear information on time, date, location, and research topic, and obtain their documented informed consent.

Conducting the focus group sessions

To get the most out of your focus group sessions, it’s important to plan ahead and follow a few key steps:

  1. Determine the goal of the focus group and create a list of questions to meet those objectives
  2. Choose a suitable location and time for the focus group, and keep the session to about two hours with the allotted time for each question
  3. Start with an icebreaker to help participants feel comfortable sharing feedback, and take notes for easy reference and sharing
  4. Have a prototype prepared for users to interact with, and use a moderator to keep the conversation on track and encourage participation

UX focus groups are essential for understanding your product from the user’s perspective and gaining valuable feedback. When conducted properly, they provide insight into your target users and what they really need.

Example scenario: Healthcare tech startup

Conducting focus groups is a common approach used in three distinct situations: during the initial stages of a research study, while developing a plan of action for research, and after the study’s completion to establish the results.

As an illustration, let’s consider a healthcare tech startup that is creating a mobile app to help people manage their mental health.

The startup selects a group of individuals that match their target user demographics, such as people with a mental health issues history, for a productive discussion. The moderator asks questions about the types of features they would like to see in a mental health app and how they prefer to interact with it. Group members discuss why they do or do not find certain features appealing and how they feel about specific user interface design elements.

Based on the feedback, the startup can create a mobile app that caters to the specific needs and wants of its target users.

Questions that you might ask during the focus group meeting will usually be divided into four parts. For our example scenario, they might look like this:

  1. Primary question: What are your thoughts on the idea of a mobile app to manage mental health?
  2. Probe questions: Can you describe your experience with mental health apps, if any? What features do you think are essential for a mental health app to have? How do you currently manage your mental health, if at all?
  3. Questions to follow up: Could you elaborate on why you find this feature appealing? How important is it for you to have privacy and confidentiality while using a mental health app? What would make you switch from your current mental health management method to using a mobile app?
  4. Questions for the conclusion: To summarize, what are the top three features that you would like to see in the app? Is there anything that we have not discussed yet that you would like to add to the conversation?

Analyzing the data collected from the focus groups

Analyzing UX focus group data can be challenging due to the high volume of data your group will produce. To effectively analyze the data, have both the video and transcript to capture nonverbal communication accurately.

Focus group note-taking tips, such as drawing a seating chart, recording observations about group dynamics, and noting down key points and themes, can make analysis easier.

Reviewing notes after each session and using qualitative coding to tag the data can help to organize, tabulate, and analyze patterns and themes. Themes and categories to consider include likes and dislikes, emotive words, mental models, problems/issues, and ideas/opportunities.

When analyzing the data, consider the words used, the intensity of feelings behind responses, the frequency of certain comments, and the context of particular responses. Analyzing each session individually and then conducting a meta-analysis of key insights and themes can provide valuable insights.

Tips for reporting and presenting focus group findings to stakeholders

When sharing your UX focus group findings, remember that the value of focus groups lies in their ability to provide big-picture, qualitative information about people. Key things to consider:

  • Use your initial research questions as a guide and focus on the key insights, themes, and takeaways that relate back to your study goals
  • If your focus groups involve group activities, consider including the outputs of these activities in your final report
  • Sharing video clips and key quotes can also help stakeholders connect with the data, but always contextualize the information for people who weren’t in the room

Your job as a researcher is to help people make sense of the research, and that is why make sure to use some visuals and charts to appeal to stakeholders and keep their attention on the most important findings.

Wrapping up

To sum up, focus groups are an important UX research method that can uncover valuable insights for product design. They allow for group discussions and interactions among participants and they generate qualitative data that can be synthesized into recommendations for product directions or opportunities.

If this article has you doubting whether a focus group is right for your use case, there are plenty of other UX research methods to consider. You may find another method that’s better for your budget or situation.

And for those of you ready to conduct your next focus group, we hope you carry this advice into your study.

Header image source: IconScout

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Yaroslav Malymon Yaroslav Malymon is a lifelong entrepreneur who specializes in search optimization, content marketing, and user experience. He has over 5 years of experience in a data-driven approach to strategic product planning and team leading to support accelerated business growth. Contact Yaroslav via LinkedIn.

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