Usability Testing vs. Focus Groups in UX Research

For the majority of people, it is not easy to clearly express their emotions about a product. They either hate it, love it, or feel indifferent about it. But all of these feelings have nothing to do with whether your UX design is good or bad. This is where the UX research comes in. It is a significant stage of any product development process as it helps website/app owners figure out how people feel about their product, providing the ability to better understand their preferences and identify the potential improvements. Usability testing and focus groups are two different UX research techniques that are often mistaken as being the same thing. Although in many ways they could not be more different from each other, individuals keep confusing these two UX research instruments. In this article, we will try to explain the difference between usability tests and focus groups, determine what you are going to get out of each technique to help you decide which one to use in a certain situation. 


What are Focus Groups?

In simplest terms, these are group discussions that help website or app owners solve usability issues. You get a small group of targeted participants together, and ask them about their overall impression and other aspects of using your product. Focus groups allow to collect users’ opinions, ideas, feelings, and attitudes regarding a website or app. Typically, this method is used before actual web or mobile development process starts, however, it also can be useful at later stages, providing feedback about alternative UX design solutions.

What is Usability Testing?

UX testing is a one-on-one approach (one moderator, one subject) that requires a site or system. It is focused on how people interact with your product to understand how they feel about it, and what they do (how they operate) throughout the experience. This approach presupposes that the instructor carefully observes what the participant is doing (and how), and writes down the results. UX testing provides the ability to figure out how well users are accomplishing their objectives to see how exactly the UX design can be improved.



Advantages of UX Testing

  • The results are highly credible. You get the accurate information on how people interact with your product;
  • A detailed feedback on usability issues that need to be fixed;
  • If analytics can only tell you what is happening with your product, UX testing can tell you why.

Disadvantages of UX Testing

  • Relatively higher expenses;
  • UX testing alone may not be enough to stimulate new UX design ideas.

Advantages of Focus Groups

  • This method allows to know more about your target audience’s needs, preferences, and generate creative ideas for new features or products; 
  • Focus groups allow you to learn how users feel about your product, including their previous experiences with it;
  • This technique provides the ability to reach a relatively high number of target users at a relatively low cost.

Disadvantages of Focus Groups

  • Using this technique is a double-edged sword. On the one hand, many opinions and ideas in the group are not of high credibility. On the other hand, they may lead to stimulating new credible ideas; 
  • Participants may influence each other. As a result, more powerful participants impact other people to express their viewpoints;
  • Often, what a user says is very different from what he or she does. Basically, what you get are declared opinions.


Usability Tests vs. Focus Groups. What’s the Difference?

The most obvious thing is that UX testing is typically performed one-on-one, while focus groups approach calls for a group of users. UX tests allow to learn how individuals use your product, whereas focus groups are more about understanding their opinions and feelings about it. So when should you use them? 

UX testing should be used if:

  1. You want to know how your product (app or site) is functioning;
  2. You want to make changes on an existing product or create a new app or website from scratch. 

UX testing allows you to understand how users interpret label names, interact with functionality, and perform tasks.

Focus groups are best used early in the development process if:

  1. You plan to implement new solutions, but not sure about the results
  2. You know too little about your target audience
  3. The development process started earlier

Focus groups allow you to map out your users’ expectations, functionality needs, and aesthetic preferences. 


Key Takeaways

Both UX testing and focus groups can provide a great deal of user information, what they do, and what they feel about it. To make that you get the best possible outcome, it is crucial that you understand exactly what you need and then decide on the most suitable approach. And if you are looking to find out how to make your website or app more usable, feel free to contact us. We will be happy to answer all of your questions regarding the UX design process. Good luck!