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Focus group – What is it?

Author: Minh Nguyen

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Sep 2023

The focus group is something of a jack-of-all-trades when it comes to qualitative usability and UX methods. However, most books, texts or websites only provide a rough description of how a focus group works.

Often so briefly that it is difficult to imagine what really happens during a focus group.

This is mainly due to the fact that focus groups are very flexible and can be used for pretty much anything between an interview and a small product test. What all focus groups have in common, however, is that they are usually a form of moderated group discussion in which between 5 and 9 people discuss a given topic.

In order to provide a little more clarity on the topic, we would like to explain the focus group, its process, advantages and disadvantages as well as its areas of application in more detail in this article.

We hope you enjoy reading it!


What is a focus group?

Imagine you are a product manager for a new app designed to make daily life easier. You want to test initial solutions for user acceptance, but now you are faced with an important question: How will users actually use your app? To find out, you organize a focus group.

It’s a sunny afternoon and a colorful mix of people are gathered in a cozy room: Young students, older couples, tech enthusiasts and tech geeks – they’ve all volunteered to try out your app and give their feedback.

The mood is tense as you greet the group and explain that you need them to be honest so you can improve the product. You start with a simple question: “How do you imagine this app could improve your everyday life?”

An elderly lady called Martha is the first to speak. She talks about her difficulties remembering appointments and how she hopes the app could help her. “I always forget to pay my bills,” she confesses with a smile.

Then there’s Alex, a young software developer who is fascinated by the technical details of the app. “I’d like to see how well the app works with different devices and operating systems,” he says, glancing at his smartphone.

As the discussion progresses, different perspectives and needs emerge. Some users prefer a simple user interface, others are looking for more in-depth functions. Some want intuitive navigation, others want personalized settings. The focus group turns into a lively discussion about design, functionality and user experience.

By the end of the session, you are overwhelmed by the diverse insights and ideas that the participants have shared. You leave with a clearer understanding of what solutions your app could offer in different life situations and with specific suggestions on how to improve it.

The focus group was not only informative, but also entertaining – a lively story of different people coming together to make the world a little bit better, one app at a time.

And to help you visualize the whole thing: This is what a focus group can look like.

A discussion within a Focus Group.

However, the example just mentioned is only one possible use for a focus group. Let’s now take a look at how else the method can be used and how it typically works.



User research with a focus group – how does it work?

Even if the above example has given you a good overview of what a focus group can look like, there are still a few things about the process (especially the “before” and “after”) that you should know. Here is a rough outline of the method:

  1. Planning and preparation:
  • Selection of participants: The participants should be representative of the target group that is to use the product or service.
  • Defining the objective: This clearly defines the specific topic or questions to be addressed during the focus group.
  • Choosing a moderator: The moderator leads the discussion and ensures that all participants have the opportunity to express themselves.


  1. Implementation:
  • Welcome and introduction: The moderator welcomes the participants, explains the purpose of the focus group and makes sure that all participants feel comfortable.
  • Introduction to the topic: The moderator introduces the topic and may provide some contextual information to guide the discussion.
  • Guiding questions and discussion: The moderator introduces questions or topics to initiate and guide the discussion. Participants are invited to share their opinions, experiences and ideas.
  • Interaction and group dynamics: Participants can interact with each other, build on each other or disagree. The moderator ensures that the discussion remains focused and that all participants have the opportunity to express themselves.
  • Visualization aids: Depending on the topic, the moderator may have visual aids such as prototypes, product images or other materials to support the discussion.


  1. Analysis and evaluation:
  • Recordings: The focus group is usually recorded (audio, video or notes) so that the results can be analyzed later.
  • Transcription and summary: The recordings are transcribed and summarized to identify key findings and trends.
  • Interpretation: The results are interpreted to gain insights into the needs, preferences and problems of the target group.
  • Reporting: A report is produced summarizing the findings of the focus group and making recommendations.


  1. Follow-up:
  • Implementation of findings: The knowledge gained is incorporated into the development of the product or service.
  • Further research: Depending on requirements, further research activities such as user tests, surveys or individual interviews can be carried out to investigate specific questions or problems in more detail.


Which questions can be answered with a focus group?

In our example at the beginning, we focused primarily on the question of how a product can enrich the lives of different user groups. However, there is much more that you can learn about a user group. The following qualitative insights can provide you with the implementation:

Acceptance for a solution:


  • Is the solution offered by your planned product even an option for users?
  • Which (possibly other) solutions do users prefer?


User experience and satisfaction:


  • How would users feel when interacting with the product/service?
  • What do users like about this product/service?
  • What bothers users when using this product/service?


Product improvement and innovation:


  • What functions or features do users want from this product/service?
  • What suggestions do users have for improving this product/service?
  • Are there any functions or ideas that users are missing?


Usability and design:


If a prototype has already been shown you can answer the following questions in a focus group:


  • Is the user interface of this product/service intuitive and easy to understand?
  • Are there any problems with the navigation or design of this product/service?
  • What aspects of the design or user interface are particularly appealing or off-putting to users?


Market research and competitive analysis:


  • How does this product/service differ from other similar products/services on the market?
  • What are the strengths and weaknesses of this product/service compared to competitors?
  • What functions or features are unique or particularly attractive to users compared to other products/services?


What are best practices for conducting a focus group?

To ensure that the focus group is successful according to your requirements, here are some additional tips for conducting it:


  • Clear objective: define clear objectives and questions that you want to answer with the focus group. This helps to keep the discussion focused and to gain relevant insights.
  • Selection of participants: Select participants who are representative of the target group that will use the product or service. Try to include a variety of opinions and perspectives to get a comprehensive picture.
  • Professional moderator: An experienced moderator can help create a positive and open discussion atmosphere, encouraging participants to share their opinions and experiences freely. The moderator should lead the discussion but not dominate it.
  • Limited group size: Keep the group small, ideally between 5 and 9 participants, to ensure that everyone has the opportunity to express themselves and that the discussion remains effective.
  • Structured guideline: Use a structured guide with prepared questions to steer the discussion and ensure that all relevant topics are addressed. However, flexibility is important to allow for spontaneous ideas and discussion.
  • Ask open questions: Ask open-ended questions that encourage sharing in-depth answers and personal experiences rather than just yes/no answers.
  • Active listening role (if you are the moderator): Listen attentively and show interest in the views and opinions of the participants. Gestures such as nodding or brief summaries of statements can encourage participants to continue speaking.
  • Respectful treatment: Create a respectful and supportive environment in which participants feel comfortable expressing their opinions, even if they differ from others.
  • Visual aids: If necessary, use visual aids such as prototypes, wireframes or product images to support the discussion and help participants better visualize how the product or service works.
  • Documentation and evaluation: Record the discussion (audio, video or notes) and document the results carefully. Transcribe the recordings and analyze the results to draw conclusions and derive recommendations.


What are the general advantages of this method?

Conducting a focus group offers you the following advantages:


  • Diversity of perspectives: By involving a group of people with different backgrounds, experiences and opinions, focus groups allow a wide range of perspectives and insights on a topic to be captured.
  • Interaction and dynamism: Focus groups encourage interaction between participants, leading to a dynamic discussion environment in which ideas can be shared, discussed and developed.
  • Group consensus and differentiation: Through discussion in a group, common opinions and beliefs can be identified, but individual differences and diverse viewpoints can also become clear.
  • Deeper insights: By being able to interact directly with participants, focus groups can provide deeper insights into their opinions, attitudes, needs and behaviors than other research methods such as surveys or interviews.
  • Synergy effects: Participants can inspire or build on each other’s ideas, allowing creative solutions to emerge that might not have been discovered through individual interviews or surveys.
  • Direct feedback: Focus groups allow participants to give direct feedback and make suggestions, which can be particularly valuable when it comes to developing or improving products or services.
  • Efficiency: By collecting data from multiple participants in one session, focus groups can be an efficient method of gaining insight and obtaining feedback, especially when compared to individual interviews.


What are the disadvantages of the method?

Despite their advantages, focus groups also have some potential disadvantages that should be considered. Here are some of the main disadvantages:

  • Group dynamics and dominance: in a focus group, dominant participants or certain group members can dominate the discussion and drown out the opinions of others. This can lead to certain perspectives not being adequately considered and the results being skewed.
  • Social desirability: Participants may tend to exhibit social desirability and influence their opinions to meet the expectations of the moderator or other participants. This can lead to distorted or dishonest answers.
  • Homogeneity of the group: If the participants in a focus group are too similar or form a homogeneous group, different perspectives and opinions may not be sufficiently represented, which can lead to limited or biased results.
  • Representativeness: Although focus groups can help to gather diverse opinions and perspectives, they may not be representative of the entire target group. Therefore, the results cannot necessarily be generalized to the entire population or target group.
  • Time and resources required: Conducting a focus group requires time, resources and planning, including selecting participants, preparing a guide, conducting the session and analyzing the results. This can be costly and require significant effort.
  • Limited number of participants: Since focus groups usually consist of a limited number of participants, they cannot capture all the different perspectives and opinions that might be present in a larger population.
  • Moderator bias: The moderator of a focus group may consciously or unconsciously introduce their own biases, opinions or expectations into the discussion and thereby influence the results.
  • Difficulties with sensitive topics: Focus groups may have difficulty discussing sensitive topics or personal experiences, as some participants may be reluctant to speak publicly or feel uncomfortable sharing their opinions.


Not the right method for your question?

We have compiled the most important methods for the most typical questions in our method assistant. Try out the method assistant and find exactly the right method for your question.

The decision matrix in our book on usability and user experience design also makes it easier to choose the right method. There you will also find a lot of background knowledge about the method itself and UX & UI in general.



Focus groups can provide you with valuable insights and information that can help develop or improve products or services. They provide an interactive and dynamic environment in which different opinions can be shared and discussed, and allow both shared and individual perspectives to be identified.

Insights can be generated into user needs and expectations, feedback on user experience, identification of opportunities for improvement and comparison with competitors.

However, there are limitations and things that focus groups may not be able to provide you with. These include the limited representativeness for the entire target group and the possible influence of dominant participants.

Despite these limitations, focus groups offer a variety of benefits to the product, including diversity of perspectives, interaction and dynamics, and direct feedback from participants.

Overall, focus groups can make a valuable contribution to the development or improvement of products or services. However, it is important to critically scrutinize the results and complement them with other research methods to ensure a comprehensive understanding of the user perspective.

Let us find out together whether a focus group is suitable for your research question and how a collaboration works in detail. You can find our contact details here.


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