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Izabela Franke
Digital Advisory UX research
Jakub Nawrocki
News Retail Technology
Paweł Wasilewski
Mobile Development Technology
Michał Klimczak
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Tomek Jurek
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How to Use Focus Group Interviews to Build Better Digital Products?

How to Use Focus Group Interviews to Build Better Digital Products?

When you hear about focus group interviews, your mind may jump to marketing research or investigations into social and political moods. Perhaps you imagine a cozy room with Venetian mirrors, cameras, microphones, and a spread of snacks on the table where participants gather. There’s a moderator guiding a group of individuals discussing various topics, sometimes agreeing, other times passionately defending contrasting viewpoints. But focus groups don’t stop there. Actually, they’re another powerful tool that makes it possible to build better digital products.

Why am I saying FGIs are another tool? In my last article from the UX research series, I wrote about ethnographic research and its role in crafting user-centered design, so feel free to check it out. Now, let’s go back to focus groups.

What are focus group interviews?

FGI, short for focus group interviews, is a research method that involves group interviews or discussions with a small gathering of individuals representing a specific target audience selected based on key characteristics. The aim of this method is to help researchers gain a deeper understanding of the perspectives, opinions, preferences, and reactions of participants regarding a specific product, service, idea, or topic.

During FGIs, a moderator leads the discussion and poses questions that help delve deeper into the research topic. Group members can freely express their opinions and respond to the comments of other interviewees, which often leads to intriguing conclusions and observations.

Focus group interviews come in handy if you want to:

  • Understand user behavior and needs
  • Test new products, services, or ideas
  • Evaluate responses to apps, loyalty programs, marketing campaigns, promotional materials, and other similar products
  • Gather insights about competitors and market trends
  • Explore preferences and expectations of target groups

The findings from this research are incredibly valuable for shaping business decisions, fine-tuning strategies, and enhancing products or services to align more effectively with customer expectations.

When to conduct focus groups?

When developing digital products, focus groups prove particularly useful during the Discovery phase, where you typically aim to uncover who the users of the services or products you’re designing are.

According to the user-centered design principle, engaging users in the app-building process is crucial, also in the subsequent stages of development. Focus groups can be beneficial in verifying ideas, solutions, and assumptions, making it possible to build solutions that are actually co-created by users.

Needless to say, there are no research methods that are 100% versatile, and focus group interviews aren’t an exception here. This approach has its limitations and can be relatively costly. In simple words, it’s not a universal approach and may not work in many situations.

The pros and cons of focus group interviews

Before diving deeper into the role of focus group interviews in building digital products, let's take a moment to explore the advantages and disadvantages of this research method.

Pros:

  • FGIs are excellent for deepening knowledge about a specific topic and understanding users and their needs, experiences, concerns, or expectations
  • Group dynamics can lead to unique insights and conclusions that can't be drawn through other methods
  • Focus groups make it easier to juxtapose different perspectives, arguments, and opinions
  • During discussions, researchers can delve into interesting topics, request additional explanations, or explore different viewpoints

Cons:

  • The selected sample isn't statistically representative of the population
  • The obtained data isn’t declarative (we can't be certain if people do what they say)
  • Data analysis is time-consuming
  • The method is relatively costly; it involves renting a focus room, recruiting participants, and compensating them
  • Unlike many research methods (e.g., UX tests, in-depth interviews, surveys) that can be conducted both in-person and online, focus groups often only make sense in an artificially created setting

The key to enriching FGIs

Focus group interviews are a research method that, when executed correctly, allows access to information that may remain hidden through other means. Let's explore how we can enrich it.

Imagine a scenario where you’re developing a new fashion m-commerce app, and you want to understand the needs of potential users. For this purpose, you can conduct focus groups with users selected based on specific characteristics (social, demographic, customer-related). Based on these discussions, you can deepen and verify your understanding of their expectations.

During these FGI sessions, you can also go the extra mile and incorporate the following elements:

  • Homework tasks – prior to the meeting, you can ask participants to complete small tasks, such as taking photos of three clothing items (let's say jeans, jackets, and hats) and writing a short story about their purchase. You should encourage them to share and discuss these stories during the session. This exercise will help you understand how they made their purchases, what guided their decisions, what mattered to them, and what didn't align with their expectations. Then you can compare these stories, and if you notice something intriguing, you can delve deeper with additional questions.
  • Projective techniques – they come in handy if you want to encourage participants to think abstractly and place themselves in hypothetical situations. You can use metaphors, card games, or board games to make the session engaging and help participants express their thoughts freely. This approach allows you to uncover their genuine, often concealed, or unrecognized needs.
  • Workshop – to wrap up a session that primarily focuses on clothing purchases, you can organize a workshop. At this point, you can collaborate with participants to design app functionalities that will serve as the “ideal shopping assistant”. This process will help you understand users' perspectives when making decisions, as well as determine which app features must be included in the Minimum Viable Product (MVP) version.

The above examples illustrate how you can glean even more valuable insights from focus groups. FGIs are not only effective, but also keep both participants and analysts engaged, often leading to surprising discoveries for everyone.

Examples of FGIs in digital product development

Now it’s time to highlight specific cases where focus groups prove useful. What business questions can they answer?

Why do users install the app but never return to it?

Possible conclusion: Perhaps users install apps for immediate benefits and abandon them when they don't see subsequent advantages.

Besides money savings, do people notice any benefits of using the app?

Possible conclusion: It’s possible that users turn to the app for fashion inspiration, to create outfits, and to receive fashion tips.

What do users think about the solutions currently available on the market?

Possible conclusion: Maybe a competitive app offers a feature that lets users snap pictures in stores to swiftly access details about materials, origin, and environmental footprint of watched products.

Why do users abandon the app even though it has the features they say they need?

Possible conclusion: Perhaps customers aren't aware of the app's functionalities beyond earning loyalty points. It’s possible that the customer service team or notifications don’t convey sufficient information.

The takeaway

Focus group interviews can provide valuable insights, ideas, and inspiration that often surpass other research methods. The key is to conduct FGIs correctly, which involves selecting the right participants, crafting a well-designed agenda, having an experienced moderator, and combining focus groups with complementary methods.

The main advantage of FGIs is that they bring together people with different life experiences, perspectives, goals, aspirations, and expectations in a group setting. This creates a synergy that leads to richer insights compared to one-on-one conversations.

For these reasons, it's incredibly valuable to conduct focus groups when developing digital solutions, especially during the Discovery phase where it’s crucial to understand users and their needs.

If you want to discover other popular UX research methods, stay tuned for more articles in our series.

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