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Introduction to UX Research: Conducting Focus Groups


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Let’s dispense with this little turd blossom right up front: Henry Ford never said, “If I'd asked customers what they wanted, they would have said "a faster horse,”
– it’s simply an myth

This is an introduction to the fundamentals of doing customer research with an emphasis on Focus Groups. This is part of the introduction to ux research series. In this talk we walk through the basics of focus groups, types of focus groups, as well as an in-depth explanation of process and pitfalls.

Research is usually conducted to gain a deep understanding of the client’s target users in order to apply a customer-centered approach to the strategic development of the client’s brand and product. In addition, focus groups seeks to reveal insights into how the target customers emotions, attitudes, beliefs, and experiences in using existing products and brands.

Published in: Technology, Business

Introduction to UX Research: Conducting Focus Groups

  1. 1. Will Evans@semanticwillYana Kuchirko@mslogophiliac
  2. 2. People do not know what they want. They barely knowwhat they need, but they definitely do not know what theywant. They’re conditioned by the limited imagination ofwhat is possible. … Most of the time, focus groups are builton the pressure of ignorance.Massimo Vignelli
  3. 3. "Its really hard to design products by focus groups. A lot of times, people dont know what they want until you show it to them.” - Steve Jobs01/13/13 Will Evans & Yana Kuchirko 3
  4. 4. Let’s dispense with this little turdblossom right up front: Henry Fordnever said, “If Id asked customers whatthey wanted, they would have said "afaster horse,”It’s not even a useful lie! 01/13/13 Will Evans & Yana Kuchirko 4
  5. 5. What are focus groups?The concept of focus groups was developed in 1930’sby psychoanalyst Ernest Dichter as a social researchmethodFocus groups are structured interviews that quicklyand inexpensively reveal a target audience’s desires,experiences, attitudes, and prioritiesFocus groups can be a useful technique when acompany needs a lot of insight from potential orexisting customers in a short amount of time 01/13/13 Will Evans & Yana Kuchirko 5
  6. 6. What are focus groups?Focus groups are good at uncovering people’s desires,motivations, values, and first hand experiences.In a focus group, people generally feel comfortablerevealing their thoughts and feelings, thereby sharingtheir views on issues and assumptions that are at thecore of their experience of a product.With the right question, the right group and the rightmoderator, focus groups can yield useful insights. 01/13/13 Will Evans & Yana Kuchirko 6
  7. 7. When to do Focus Groups?In product design, focus groups are used early in thedesign cycle when the team is generating ideas andseeking to understand the needs of the target audience.Early in the design cycle, focus groups can help thecompany understand: User’s fundamental issues and perceptions of the product What users believe are the important features of the product What types of problems users experience with the product Where do users feel the product fails to meet their expectations 01/13/13 Will Evans & Yana Kuchirko 7
  8. 8. When to do Focus Groups? (cont.)Later in the development process focus groups canhelp the company identify and prioritize features tobuild and release in the product Knowing why people value certain features can determine what gets developed and in what orderFocus groups also serve as a platform for generatingideas of what users wish to see in future releases 01/13/13 Will Evans & Yana Kuchirko 8
  9. 9. Focus Groups cannot be used tounequivocally prove or disprove ahypothesis about the user experienceof a product. 01/13/13 Will Evans & Yana Kuchirko 9
  10. 10. When NOT to do Focus Groups?When the objective is to acquire usability information A group of people can’t provide specific information regarding product features without structured usability testing sessionsWhen seeking to understand the perspectives of the biggerpopulation Quantitative data that is generalizable to the bigger population requires surveys or other methodological approaches that require a large sample of participants There is no guarantee that proportion of responses in the group matches that of larger population of usersAlthough focus groups are an excellent way to gathermotivations and insights from the users, it cannot be used tounequivocally prove or disprove a hypothesis about theuser experience 01/13/13 Will Evans & Yana Kuchirko 10
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  12. 12. Exploratory Focus GroupsTypically conducted in the beginning of a design cycleUncover users’ general attitudes on a given topic, allowingproduct designs to See how their users will understand their product What words users will use to speak about it What criteria they will use to judge it 01/13/13 Will Evans & Yana Kuchirko 12
  13. 13. Feature Prioritization Focus GroupsGenerally held at the beginning of the product design cyclewhen the outlines of the product are clear.These groups focus on features of the product that are mostattractive to the users, with an emphasis on why they areappealing.Underlying assumption of this type of focus group is thatthat the participants are interested in the product, withdiscussion focusing on what kinds of things they would likethe product to do for them. 01/13/13 Will Evans & Yana Kuchirko 13
  14. 14. Competitive Analysis Focus GroupsAims to uncover what attracts and repels users with respectto competitor’s sites What associations do users have with the competitor? What aspects of the user experience they find valuable? Where does the product satisfy users’s needs and where does it not suffice? What emotions does the product evoke? How do users identify with the product?This type of focus group is often conducted anonymously 01/13/13 Will Evans & Yana Kuchirko 14
  15. 15. Trend Explanations Focus GroupGenerally held in either a re-design part of the developmentprocess, or in response to specific emotional or functionalissues in product developmentExploring the trends of users’ behaviors, needs, andexpectations within and across products. 01/13/13 Will Evans & Yana Kuchirko 15
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  17. 17. How to conduct Focus GroupsAssemble your team Make sure you have a good cross section of product, ux, marketing and development.Create a schedule A good schedule provides sufficient time for recruiting, testing, analyzing and integrating resultsDefine your users Recruit participants who are your users and thus likely to provide the best feedback – usually 6-8Define the scope of your research What is the complexity of your questions? What is the depth at which you wish to explore the answers? This will determine the number of people and the number of groups that need to be conducted 01/13/13 Will Evans & Yana Kuchirko 17
  18. 18. How to run your Focus GroupsChoose a topics for discussion On average, 3-5 topics per 90 minute focus groupCreate a discussion guideConsider the “core” questions you and your product teamare trying to answer and prioritize themEstablish roles Who will moderate? Who will take notes? Who will lead the discussion afterwards 01/13/13 Will Evans & Yana Kuchirko 18
  19. 19. Asking Good QuestionsQuestions should be:  Carefully ordered, thus positioning participants within a certain frame of mind, containing an intuitive flow  Non-directed: should not imply an answer. Example: “How difficult do you find this feature?”  Open-ended: general enough not to constrain answers to a specific responses (limit yes-no questions)  Focused: focused on specific topics you are investigating  Personal: people love to generalize their experience to the bigger public; create questions that concentrate on person’s current behavior and opinions without many opportunities to project their experiences onto the general public  Unambiguous: clear and concise, with few shades of meaning. 01/13/13 Will Evans & Yana Kuchirko 19
  20. 20. Example Discussion GuideWarm up and introduction (approx. 15 min) Introduction of moderation Ice breakers for participants Outline of the processMain topic discussion Moderate group discussion that focuses on specific questions you and your company have regarding a product.Wrap-Up Final thoughts and reflections 01/13/13 Will Evans & Yana Kuchirko 20
  21. 21. Warm Up & Introduction Tips Telling participants that they were chosen to be part of the group allows them to feel more comfortable with one another Informing the group of the purpose of the session focuses their attention to the desired end goal Clearly set out expectations and “ground rules” for discussion (no blocking, interruption, flow of discussion) Acknowledge any potentially anxiety provoking features of the environment (camera, mirrored wall) to help people feel more comfortable• Inform participants of their rights to participation Freedom to leave at any point, confidentiality of their thoughts 01/13/13 Will Evans & Yana Kuchirko 21
  22. 22. Main Discussion TipsProbes and follow-up questions are extremely useful They dig deeper into any given topic They clarify what people mean when they state their opinions My definition of “useful”, “clear”, and/or “good” may not mirror other people’s definitions of there terms. Probes help create a common definition of terms, and alleviate potential misunderstandings between the researcher and participant. 01/13/13 Will Evans & Yana Kuchirko 22
  23. 23. Context Is King (not content)Comfortable environment is key to a lively discussionLimited interruptions After the session begins, no new person should join the session so that the dynamic isn’t altered by another person’s presenceFood is encouraged Eating is an informal activity that often breaks tension in any group No noisy snacks that disturb the conversationSeating order Have a 10-15 minute social time before the focus group starts so the moderator can identify introverts, extroverts, and alpha-jerksVideotaping advised Human interaction is incredible complex. Since the moderator is part of the group dynamic, it is helpful to videotape the sessions in order to capture gestures, and other subtle interactions 01/13/13 Will Evans & Yana Kuchirko 23
  24. 24. John McLaughlin is a perfectexample of a bad moderatorand a douchebag: highlyopinionated, clearly biased,with a tendency fordominating the discussion 01/13/13 Will Evans & Yana Kuchirko 24
  25. 25. What about the moderator?Group moderation is a skillBasic skills any moderator should embody are: Respect for the participants Ability to listen closely to other’s perspectives Ability to think fast on multiple levels simultaneously.The moderator must be able to predict the direction of theconversation and drive it toward a desired direction,without the participants realizing that they are beingmoderated. This can be accomplished via moderator’s subtle cues, tone, and/or body language 01/13/13 Will Evans & Yana Kuchirko 25
  26. 26. Effective ModerationControl Moderator should always be in control of leading discussion towards answers to questions, and deterring tangentsGood time management The flow should be monitored so that introduction of topics is at appropriate times, transitions are intuitive and natural.Participant-focused A moderator should mediate the discussion, rather than expressing opinionsRespect All participants should feel comfortable and have a voice, alpha-jerks managedPreparation Moderator should have sufficient knowledge of product space 01/13/13 Will Evans & Yana Kuchirko 26
  27. 27. Effective Moderation Tips Spend time with participants beforehand to get a sense of who is quiet and might need more attention Stick to the guide but be flexible enough to stray away from the script when necessary Engage ALL participants in the discussion Avoid introducing new terminology and concepts Be mindful of body language Clarify any comments & restate ideas and opinions to ensure everyone is on the same page Probe for alternative opinions on any given topic Don’t dominate the discussion, allow the group to lead Provide the group with time to think & give a break when necessary Use humor when appropriate and keep the energy level high01/13/13 Will Evans & Yana Kuchirko 27
  28. 28. An electronics company was testing a new boombox they hoped to start selling. Their research included focus groups where they showed the two colour options: yellow and black. The participants were in agreement that yellow was the best colour because it is vibrant and energetic. At the end of the focus group they were each allowed to take a boombox home and could choose yellow or black. They all chose black. – Steve Mulder, “The User is Always Right”01/13/13 Will Evans & Yana Kuchirko 28
  29. 29. Common ObstaclesThe moderator is not an objective observer Moderator affects the group dynamics and discussionFocus groups reveal the way people think and not the waythey actually behaveOpinions from focus groups may be limited to theparticipants in the sessions The sample may be biased for more reasons than just small size and therefore cannot be adequately extrapolated to represent the bigger populationReticent individuals are often silenced by outspoken ones Data may be biased toward those who speak up“Vividness effect” People often provide examples of situations that are most emotionally vivid to them.01/13/13 Will Evans & Yana Kuchirko 29
  30. 30. Common ObstaclesOverly talkative participants When people are clearly talking without a purpose, ask them kindly to wrap up and move on: Moderate the extroverts, probe the introverts.Group dominance (The Alpha-Jerk Effect) A single dominant/bullying participant can ruin the focus groupUnqualified participants At times people misunderstand what the participation criteria are, or misrepresent their experienceTangents They can be useful for discussion of values and ideas, but should be wrapped up quickly and redirected to main discussion pointHostility & Offensive Ideas Vehement disagreement or offensive ideas can lead people in the group to feel uncomfortable. The moderator should redirect conversation to the focusing on the ideas behind any given perspective: Go Meta!01/13/13 Will Evans & Yana Kuchirko 30
  31. 31. Researchers must continually be careful to avoid the trap of selective perception - Richard A. Krueger01/13/13 Will Evans & Yana Kuchirko 31
  32. 32. What data to collect?Focus groups produce a ton of potentially usefulinformation which can be extracted by means of: Transcripts Quotations Observer opinions Models VideotapesWhat information should be prioritized depends upon howwhat form of data answers your question, and how quicklyyou need to synthesize the results.01/13/13 Will Evans & Yana Kuchirko 32
  33. 33. Analysis StepsCapture the initial hypothesis During the debriefing (occurring with little time lapse from focus group to retain memory), discuss with other observers thoughts regarding the groups opinions and feedbackTranscribe and code Video interaction should be transcribed and themes/trends of opinions should be extracted via codingCoding is a method of extrapolating ideas from thetranscripts and categorizing the responses (thus generatingquantitative data). Your codes (general categories) should be short, concise, descriptive in nature, and accurately depicting a users’ single idea.01/13/13 Will Evans & Yana Kuchirko 33
  34. 34. Coding FrameworkTop-down A hypothesis of what types of themes the participants’ transcripts will generate already exists and is confirmed using the data A pre-existing model is applied to the data.Bottom-up The data is explored without pre-existing framework in mind, generating themes based on the responses in the transcript. The model is generated using the data. This methodological approach to extracting themes from focus group interviews is recommended since it is less biased and more true to the data.01/13/13 Will Evans & Yana Kuchirko 34
  35. 35. Extracting Trends in DataMental models Mental representations of how your users understand the way the world or a product worksValues What do people like and dislike and what criteria do they use to establish their opinionsStories Stories are a powerful way that people capture their unique, subjective experiences, and provide details about their assumptions, order of doing things and ways of solving problemsProduct pitfalls Brainstorms during focus groups can produce a list of problems that users experience using the product01/13/13 Will Evans & Yana Kuchirko 35
  36. 36. Getting the most out of the dataQuestions to read for  What are reasons behind people’s opinions?  What terminology do people use and do products speak their users’ language?  Where do people contradict themselves?  When do people change their minds and how does that reveal their actual values and perspectives on a given product?  What do people consider to be important and is the product that is popular actually important to them?01/13/13 Will Evans & Yana Kuchirko 36
  37. 37. Thanks! Will Evans@semanticwillYana Kuchirko@mslogophiliac