When it comes to collecting feedback from users, usability tests and focus groups are often confused although their goals are completely different.
Focus groups assess what users say: a number of people gather in order to discuss their feelings, attitudes and thoughts on a given topic to reveal their motivations and preferences.
Usability testing, on the other hand, is about observing how people actually use a product, by assigning key tasks to users and analyzing their performance and experience.
How the two research methods are different:
- They have different goals. As Chris Gieger summarizes in his article: „focus groups are about understanding people’s feelings and opinions about something whereas usability tests are about learning how people use things”. A focus groups tell you what people want; user studies tell you whether something works.
- The research processes are entirely different. Focus group research implies discussions with members of your target audience, while usability testing is about observing users performing given tasks. A focus group research, in addition, is typically performed with a group of participants while a usability test is typically performed one-on-one.
- What people say is not what they do. According to Jakob Nielsen, the most important difference between the two methods is that focus groups can only reveal what “customers say they do and not the way customers actually operate the product”. Cardinal Path has written a great comparison between the two methods. (For more sources, see Myth #21: People can tell you what they want.)
- They should be performed in different phases of the development. Focus groups should be performed early in the project to discover your target audience, while usability testing should be used to measure the performance of your site after it has been finished or is in a test phase, as a Webcredible article points out.
- So “focus groups are not usability tests”, as Steve Krug debunks this myth in the briefest form possible in Don’t Make Me Think.
- “Focus groups are worthless… A focus group is an artificial construct that is so much about the group dynamic.”, says Erika Hall.