Communicating Concepts
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Focus Groups

What is a Focus Group?
       A focus group is a type of research of the perceptions held by a group of people are asked about their feelings, opinions, beliefs, and attitudes towards a product, service, concept, advertisement, idea, or packaging. 

       Focus groups are a technique that can help assess needs and feelings of potential user before interface design and long after implementation. A focus group brings together from six to nine users to discuss issues and concerns about the an idea or features of a product. A typical group session will lasts about two hours and is run by a moderator whose job it is to maintain the focus of the group.

       The goal of a focus group is to bring out spontaneous reactions and ideas so observers can view group dynamics and organizational issues. It is very important to remember that any assessment of what customers SAY they will do is not always representative of customers actually purchasing the product. Since there are often major differences between what people say and what they do,  establishing a test marketing trial is the only real determination of their actions providing direct collberation to the focus group responses.

       There are different types of focus groups which vary by their parameters. These include:
  • Two-way focus group - one focus group watches another focus group and discusses the observed interactions and conclusion
  • Dual moderator focus group - one moderator ensures the session progresses smoothly, while another ensures that all the topics are covered
  • Dueling moderator focus group - two moderators deliberately take opposite sides on the issue under discussion
  • Respondent moderator focus group - one and only one of the respondents are asked to act as the moderator temporarily
  • Client participant focus groups - one or more client representatives participate in the discussion, either covertly or overtly
  • Mini focus groups - groups are composed of four or five members rather than 6 to 12
  • Teleconference focus groups - telephone network is used
  • Online focus groups - computers connected via the internet are used

        Focus groups can provide accurate information, but are very dependent on the random selection of the group's participants that provides an accurate cross section of the target audience.

Potential Problems
There are issues associated with:

  • External Validity - Especially the reactive effects of the testing arrangement
  • Observer Dependency - Results obtained are influenced by the researcher or his own reading of the group's discussion, raising questions of validity
  • Experimenter's Bias - Other common (and related) criticism involve groupthink and social desirability bias.
  • Lack of Anonymity - There can not be any guarantee of confidentiality for participants.
  • Cherry Picked Data - Data is selected to support a foregone conclusion.
  • Focus Groups Rebelling - Bored and impatient focus group participants playing games with the moderator by altering their responses.
  • Ideas Being Intentionally Leaked - The purpose of forming the focus group is designed to spread rumors.

Comparison of usability evaluation methods

Evaluation Method Evaluation Method Type Applicable Stages Description Advantages Disadvantages
Think aloud protocol Testing Design, coding, testing and release of application Participants in testing express their thoughts on the application while executing set tasks
Less expensive

Results are close to what is experienced by users
The Environment is not natural to the user
Remote Usability testing Testing Design, coding, testing and release of application The experimenter does not directly observe the users while they use the application though activity may be recorded for subsequent viewing Efficiency, effectiveness and satisfaction, the three usability issues, are covered Additional Software is necessary to observe the participants from a distance
Focus groups Inquiry Testing and release of application A moderator guides a discussion with a group of users of the application If done before prototypes are developed, can save money

Produces a lot of useful ideas from the users themselves

Can improve customer relations
The environment is not natural to the user and may provide inaccurate results.

The data collected tends to have low validity due to the unstructured nature of the discussion
Interviews Inquiry Design, coding, testing and release of application The users are interviewed to find out about their experience and expectations Good at obtain- ing detailed information

Few participants are needed

Can improve customer relations
Can not be conduct- ed remotely

Does not address the usability issue of efficiency
Cognitive walkthrough Inspection Design, coding, testing and release of application A team of evaluators walk through the application discussing usability issues through the use of a paper prototype or a working prototype Good at refining requirements
does not require a fully functional prototype
Does not address user satisfaction or efficiency

The designer may not behave as the average user when using the application
Pluralistic walk through Inspection Design A team of users, usability engineers and product developers review the usability of the paper prototype of the application Usability issues are resolved faster

Greater number of usability prob- lems can be found at one time
Does not address the usability issue of efficiency
Source:      Genise, Pauline. “Usability Evaluation: Methods and Techniques: Version 2.0” August 28, 2002. University of Texas. 

      There can be significant costs of conducting a focus group when there is a product that is being considered for marketing on a nationwide basis, requiring setting up focus groups in different geographic regions throughout the country to detect if there may be regional attitudes about a new product.

      There would be a considerable expenditure in travel and lodging expenses to use focus groups in the respective geographic areas. An alternative is to establish a representative test marketing area and use a focus group in the test area to obtain preliminary data to determine if establishing a second test market area should be established.

      In an interactive group setting, participants are free to talk with other group members.

Recommended Reading:

The Use and Misuse of Focus Groups -   Appropriate use of focus groups to improve interactive products such as software and Web sites. Sometimes focus groups are the wrong method to find out meaningful data.


Conducting Focus Group: A focus group is basically a way to reach out to your potential users for feedback and comment. Organizations generally use focus groups in planning, marketing ...

Focus Groups - Program Evaluation Focus groups are a method of group interviewing in which the interaction between the moderator and the group, as well as the interaction between group



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