Focus groups

What it is

A focus group is a facilitated in-depth discussion with a group of users (usually six to eight) on aspects of the service.

Why it’s useful

Focus groups are a useful way of collecting insights into users’ opinions on a particular service or idea. Focus groups allow different points of view to be explored by the group. Often participants raise points that make their fellow participants consider the subject from a new angle.

Focus groups are a good way to explore abstract ideas and opinions, rather than recounting personal experiences.  They don’t offer as much information about users’ lived experiences and behaviours.

When to do it

Focus groups can be used at the beginning of a design process when you’re looking to understand the needs of users - often in the prepare and understand phases.  Focus groups can also be useful later on to test ideas and prototypes.

It’s important that focus groups are well facilitated and that a range of activities are used (i.e card sorting, voting, drawing, postcards, journey maps, association games). This helps moderate dominant personalities and allow for less confident participants to contribute. Focus groups can also make some participants feel a pressure to conform, which may lead some participants to contribute less than they would in one-to-one research.

How to do it

  1. Identify what you’re trying to achieve.
  2. Identify the types of participants you need. For for example, it might be important to your research to have focus groups made up of users with a similar demographic profile (i.e. age, sex, income).
  3. Plan activities for the focus groups and create a run sheet for the sessions.
  4. Prepare logistics e.g. venue and refreshments.