Focus Groups: The Penicillin of Redesign

focus groups

Maybe I am some type of mutant, but I actually like doing focus groups and stakeholder interviews.

I always hear from others that they come out of focus groups feeling drained and frustrated, saying that they are pointless because it only confirms what they already knew.

I <3 Focus Groups

I, on the other hand, have never felt that way. First of all, I love when my suspicions are confirmed — it means I can charge off into the sunset and make the changes I already wanted! Second, I have never been in a focus group that didn’t teach me something, so if you aren’t learning anything in your focus groups, you may need to ask different questions, dig deeper, or listen more closely.  It’s important to be prepared when you run a focus group, and know what you want to ask and where you want to start the conversation, but the point is that it is a conversation — and one in which you should be doing more listening than talking.  Be open minded, be flexible, and be prepared to be surprised.

One Good Idea Can Rock Your World

I have low expectations.  If I get one good idea out of a focus group, I consider it a huge success.  I spend all day, every day, with my site.  I know more about its strengths and weaknesses than most people combined, but I can never know everything.  For the cost of a few pizzas and an hour of my time I can cull nuggets of wisdom out of the users I serve, and all I have to do is listen.  I don’t have to learn a new programming language or take a course.  All I have to do is talk to people, and keep asking why.

In what other profession can you round up a bunch of regular people with no qualifications, bribe them with free food, and get them to tell you exactly how to do your job better?  If doctors could cure diseases that way, keeping people healthy would be a lot easier.  And if you’ve ever been an admin on a site that is five years old, you know that websites can have a lot in common with a disease, or at least a stubborn bacterial infection.

So, maybe what I’m really trying to say is that focus groups are like penicillin.

And thank God for antibiotics. ;)


Last year, I heard Whitney Hess speak at the edUi Conference about interview techniques and problem solving and it gave a lot of specific tips and tricks.  Here’s the written version of that presentation, What’s Your Problem: Putting Purpose Back into Your Projects






4 thoughts on “Focus Groups: The Penicillin of Redesign

  1. Carrie, thank you so much for linking to my blog post here. I’m so thrilled you got something valuable about of my presentation and chose to share it with your readers. (The pingback on my blog post shows your original comments — happy to delete it if you’d like).

    Thank you again!

    • Well, thank you for that great presentation and posting it on your blog! It’s a great resource!

  2. Aw, this was a very nice post. In thought I would like to put in writing like this moreover – taking time and precise effort to make a very good article… but what can I say… I procrastinate alot and under no circumstances seem to get one thing done.

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