Understanding HCI

Focus Groups

What is A focus Group?

  1. Focus Groups are a technique for collecting data from a range of users
  2. Essentially a group interview.
  3. A moderator is required to lead the group, but the session should be as fluid as possible whilst staying on topic.
  4. All participants should contribute and care should be taken to cover a broad range of topics and not allow one person to dominate

Why Use it?

  1. The users will have had an amount of experience with the original or prototype system and should be able to give
    1. positive and negative feedback
    2. with possible suggestions and recommendations
  2. Focus groups provide a diverse range of opinions

Participants Needed


One usability expert is required for the exercise.


Typically 3-10 participants, though 6-9 is the recommended size of focus groups.

Task List

  1. Locate representative users (typically 6 to 9 per focus group) who are willing to participate.
  2. Select a moderator.
  3. The list of issues to be discussed should be prepared beforehand. Normally focuses discussion on
    1. Task flow
    2. Suitability of design to task
    3. Suitability of design to user
    4. Quality of work produced
    5. Impact on work environment
    6. Impact on workload
    7. Impact on worker relationships
    8. Ease of use
    9. Other topics from floor
  4. Keep the discussion on track without inhibiting the free flow of ideas and comment.
  5. Ensure that all participants get to contribute to the discussion. Guard against having a single participant's opinion dominate the discussion.
  6. Have the discussion feel free-flowing and relatively unstructured to the participants, but try to follow a prepanned script.
  7. Write a summary of the prevailing mood and critical comments of the session, including representative quotes.

Conditions required

  • Large room
  • Comfortable chairs
  • Whiteboard or flip chart for note taking
  • Tea, coffee and biscuits

Limitations Of method

  1. The data collected may be difficult to organise, but audio recording should help.
  2. Good relationship needs to be fostered between the moderator and the group to help discussion.
  3. Moderator needs to be experienced to keep focused on topics. It is not as simple as preparing questions, because the moderator needs to facilitate and guide discussion in real time.
  4. Data is not quantitative and may not be generalisable
  5. More than one focus group may be required, as the outcome of a single session may not be representative and a single discussion may have focused on a subset of the issues or minor aspects of the system.
  6. Computer conferencing or electronic mail networks or bulletin boards may be an alternative way of simulating the focus group approach. However, their limitation is that the people who are responding are probably not representative users, but rather expert users.

Exercise - Focus Group Participation

In groups of 6 to 9 conduct a focus group on the experience of using a tutorial system for flash / dreamweaver etc as if you were the prospective designers of a new tutorial system. A moderator should be selected to coordinate the focus group. As a group, write up your collective thoughts on the flip chart / whiteboard provided.

Individually, compare your experience of interviewing and focus groups in terms of:

  1. depth of knowledge gained
  2. ease of analysis of information
  3. usability and applicability of information gained
  4. any other relevant information

Exercise - Focus Group 'Expert'

Read the article below and see if you can come up with some ways you might identify and cope with a focus group 'expert'

Group Thinker You can make a living from focus groups—if you tell them what they want to hear