Focus groups can be a powerful tool in system development, but they should not be the only source of information about user behavior. In interactive systems development, the proper role of focus groups is not to assess interaction styles or design usability, but to discover what users want from the system.
A focus group is a qualitative research method that aims to gather quick user insights from a variety of people in a short period of time.
Focus groups are a somewhat 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.
Focus groups often bring out users' spontaneous reactions and ideas and let you observe some group dynamics and organizational issues. You can also ask people to discuss how they perform activities that span many days or weeks: something that is expensive to observe directly.
However, they can only assess what customers say they do and not the way customers actually operate the product. Since there are often major differences between what people say and what they do, direct observation of one user at a time always needs to be done to supplement focus groups.
Focus groups are designed to gain an understanding of customer opinions and perceptions of new concepts or ideas. They are typically used during the design and early stages of the research phase to gain consensus on customer perception. Focus groups are also useful after the product has been implemented since it helps to gather user insights on a functioning product.
The goal of a focus group is to get many participants in a room to gather as many different ideas and perspectives as possible.
However, having too many people can limit the ability to gather feedback from all participants. After all, there isn’t a linear relationship between the number of participants and the number of insights. We found that the ideal group size for a focus group is 8 – 10 people.
It is also recommended to facilitate three or four different focus groups to ensure a good mix of perspectives and ideas.