User research is a crucial component of any website or product development process. It will help you to identify the needs of your users and demonstrate how your website, intranet or application can be improved. Focus groups and usability testing are two very useful but very different user research disciplines. This article will look at the difference between focus groups and usability testing, the pros and cons of each and when in the development process you should use them.
Focus groups gather approximately 6-8 representatives of your target market together with a moderator and have them discuss their feelings, attitudes and ideas on topics. They attempt to gather many people’s thoughts and attitudes on ideas and/or designs.
Usability testing involves using a 1-on-1 (1 person and 1 facilitator) interaction with a system or website. The facilitator runs through key tasks with the user and analyses how well they perform these tasks and how they find the whole experience. It focuses on the interaction between people and a website/system (finding how well people are able to do tasks and finding where and how designs can be improved).
Both focus groups and usability testing help you learn more about your target market, your users, giving you valuable insight into how you can improve the user experience of your website. But, because of their different focus and approach, they can give you very different information about your users.
To help you get a greater understanding of when you should use either method you should learn the advantages and disadvantages of using each.
The group interaction is a double edged sword. It means ideas can be bounced around and developed in the groups, leading to the creation of new ideas. It also means that they aren’t always totally reliable - 1 vocal person in a group can influence what everyone else says.
So when should you use each research method? Well, it really depends on the amount of research you’ve already done.
Focus groups should be:
Usability testing should (ideally) be:
Both focus groups and usability testing can give you a vast amount of information about your customers - who they are, what they feel and how they behave. However, to ensure you get the best possible insight from your investment, it’s crucial to know what you want to find out and use the method best suited to give you the information you need.
This article was written by Alistair Gray a consultant at the user experience consultancy, Webcredible. Alistair’s passionate about improving the user experience of websites and is responsible for implementing a variety of user experience projects including eye tracking and information architecture.
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