Best practices for software focus groups
February 7, 2013 4:28 PM   Subscribe

I'd like to start running focus groups on the software I design, and I'd love it if any of you lovely people have experience/resources/best practices you can share.

I do ux and visual design for online financial software, and am about to embark on a major overhaul of an existing app. I'd like to get insights on the problems current users (of varying experience levels) have with the existing app, as well as user validation of my new designs. I'm new to collecting this sort of feedback, so any experience any of you have with constructing these groups (membership, structure, types of questions, traps you've fallen into), general best practices, resources (books, websites etc) that you'd recommend, I'd love to see them and hear your thoughts.

I've already taken a look at Information Architecture for the World Wide Web and Don't Make Me Think.

posted by renderthis to Computers & Internet (6 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I did a course on usability testing a couple years ago, and we used these two books:
- Handbook of Usability Testing
- Measuring the User Experience: Collecting, Analyzing, and Presenting Usability Metrics

I preferred the Handbook because it was easier to read, but both of them would be useful (and I liked having two, for slightly different emphasis and perspective). It was very hard - I still don't do this professionally, but we did class projects running three rounds of user testing on a website of our choice. We found that the results of the first round were virtually useless - in the chaos of trying to watch the user, tell them what to do, not lead them down the right path, etc, half of us forgot to even take notes on most of it. While a focus group is completely different to actual usability testing (and you may need to consider whether it's the right method for you - I think both texts will contain some early guidance on different kinds of user research and when to use them) you are still likely to find it very difficult to do, and should set up a couple practice sessions where you are not relying on the data.
posted by jacalata at 4:52 PM on February 7, 2013

Well, as a usability professional I have to say that I really prefer one-on-one sessions over focus groups, especially for collecting issues and validation feedback for a major overhaul. This is because focus groups can get unruly really fast (there's always one dominant personality in the room who tries to commandeer the other participants) and they are more challenging if you have never done this sort of thing before.

There's so much more I could say but I'll just leave it at that for now. Feel free to memail me if you have specific questions about running a session or formulating tasks.
posted by joan_holloway at 5:24 PM on February 7, 2013

You should really go with a pro if you want to run a focus group.
posted by downing street memo at 6:03 PM on February 7, 2013 [1 favorite]

I suggest you read Chapter 13 of Joel Spolsky's User Interface Design for Programmers. You can read it by back-pedaling a few pages on this link.
posted by Dansaman at 10:12 PM on February 7, 2013

I wrote some tips here.

As for the "Information Architecture for the World Wide Web" book, a bazillion years ago the author and I chatted about his ideas.
posted by mark7570 at 6:27 AM on February 8, 2013

Thanks for the tips folks. This is a great starting point.
posted by renderthis at 8:08 AM on February 8, 2013

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