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« Where's the Web Site Link? ( I'm confused . . . ) | Main | Web Usability ISN'T . . . »

Focus Groups versus Usability Testing

This post is for my friend Peter who feels so passionate about focus groups.  Steve Krug makes some excellent points in Don’t Make Me Think regarding the differences between focus groups and a usability test. There are a number of people in the business world that confuse focus groups and usability testing.  Each discipline has its own unique approach, but the type of information collected and methodology are different. 

Focus Groups
Mr. Krug points out that focus groups are “a group process, and much of its value comes from participants reacting to each other’s opinions.” In a previous post, Beware! Dominant Users and Focus Groups, the dangers of a dominate user are briefly explored. This is in contrast to a usability test in which testing is usually conducted one on one. Krug believes focus groups are beneficial in obtaining quick feedback. This involves a better understanding of user needs, wants, likes and dislikes. I believe that focus groups are also great for brainstorming ideas.  An argument is made against focus groups in regards to determining if a web site is easy to use and what requires improvements. This is where usability testing comes into play.

Usability Testing
Usability testing concentrates on making sure a web site is functions properly and where to make improvements.  Krug argues focus groups “won’t tell you whether people can actually use your site.” This is best accomplished with usability testing. The one on one usability testing can help you refine how individual people interact with a web site.  Individual people won’t have their opinions modified by what someone else might think.  That’s the beauty of one on one test.  Users usually don’t surf the Internet in groups.  Individual usability tests also all you to concentrate on finite tasks and details.

Both focus groups and usability testing provide you with valuable information.  Use each accordingly and wisely.

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