Approach

The following is an in-depth description of how I have conducted a focus group as a UX Research method in a real world project.

You can find a longer list of methods I have used in the past without descriptions on the Methods page!

Focus Group for UX/UI Website Design

The following focus group was performed in February of 2021 to support brainstorming of the design of Starsdance Mystery School’s website for prospective students.

step #1: Identify who to recruit for focus group

To begin, I referenced the demographics of Starsdance’s existing students and the three user personas that were created for the organization. These three personas were: Amber Scott (The Curious Activist), Caitlyn Dupree (The Social Creative), and Lorrie DragonFly (The Pagan Elder). I scanned the goals, needs, habits, quotes, technology likes and dislikes to get an idea of how I will be able to successfully identify a desired participant of the focus group based on those metrics.

Amber Scott (they/them) has the accessibility issue of dyslexia, which makes reading text on websites difficult. It would be ideal to find another participant who has the same or similar pain point to get an idea of what contributes to a stress-free website browsing experience that is engaging for them. Amber also needs accountability from the organizers if they want them to use the site and join the online astrology community. While they are interested (but new to) the topic of astrology, it was stated via this persona that they will not participate in discussions or even check the forums if the moderators are not paying attention to and stopping bullying behavior. This reveals that including focus group participants who care about responsible leadership and group facilitation when they are using social media and taking online classes is important. This factor is even more important since Amber is trans and learning how to effectively protect this demographic from hate speech is a core value of the organization.

Caitlyn Dupree (she/her) loves using social media to express herself and showcase whatever art she is working on to connect with other users. Since creativity is a huge part of connection and participation to her, it is important to recruit artists of various mediums who often use online platforms to share their work and enjoy talking with other users. Since Caitlyn is described as “energetic, expressive, passionate, and talkative” this indicates that people like her have the potential to really engage other users and foster the type of online community that Starsdance stakeholders say they want to create. Finding focus group participants that also share these qualities would be a great source of information for this project.

Lorrie Dragonfly (she/her) is an older user who has learned to love social media and online classes but struggled to learn how to use the platforms where they are hosted. This reveals that including older people who are not as intuitive and acclimated to new technology would really serve Starsdance: reassuring these people that the service and community being offered to them is easy to use because their website is easy to use. Since Lorrie is also really invested in social media as a way to connect with people she cares about while learning about things that inspire her, it is important to include focus group participants that already use social media or are committed to figuring it out rather than including people who need to be convinced that social media is worth trying and learning.

The goal is to recruit five people. Keywords and descriptors of ideal focus group participants are:

  • Activists
  • Advocates
  • Artists
  • Appreciators of Astrology
  • Community-oriented
  • Creative
  • Curious
  • Determined
  • Doesn’t need to be convinced that new social media is worth using
  • Dyslexic (or have another visual/neuroatypical usability issue)
  • Energetic
  • Expressive
  • New to technology, but committed to learning
  • LGBTQIA+
  • Passionate
  • Responsible
  • Spiritual
  • Talkative
  • Tech-savvy

Step #2: Create a script for the focus group

Since time with these participants will be limited to one hour via Zoom, determining a list of questions and exercises to obtain the desired information in a timely manner is essential. A timeline has been created to ensure to help keep me on task and ensure that every portion of the focus group is completed by the end: it is intended to be a general guide, not a restrictive barrier.

The outline of the script:

Section
Introduction
Confidentiality agreement
Explanation of the process
Icebreaker
Exercise
Questions
Wrap up
Duration
2 minutes
1 minute
2 minutes
7 minutes
30 minutes
15 minutes
3 minutes

Step #3: recruit focus group participants

I decided to use Facebook and Discord to scan my friend lists for people who matched the recruitment keywords listed above. I wanted at least two people over the age of 50 with some social media experience who were also passionate about staying connected with their long distance friends and somewhat curious about astrology.

I also wanted 2 -3 people within the age range of 30 – 39 (the demographic that was most represented in Starsdance registration numbers) who use social media frequently to talk with others near and far. Prioritizing queer, trans, artist and activist perspectives were of the utmost importance to ensure that Starsdance stakeholders and facilitators would be connecting with members of their target market.

The first five people who fit the qualities listed above agreed to participate. A Doodle Poll was then created to select a time that worked best for everyone. Once that date was selected, a Zoom link was sent via email to each participant.

Step #4: Conduct Focus group

When the day arrived for the focus group to be performed, everyone logged into the Zoom meeting a few minutes before it was set to begin. Then, I began reading the introduction from my script:

Introduction:

“Hello everyone! Thanks for coming today. As you all know, my name is Jenni and I am a qualitative UX Researcher looking to understand the needs, experiences and goals that you all have when it comes to online community. Your feedback will greatly influence how content and media is created for an organization that wants to connect with people just like you!

This served as the welcome for the group and began the process of creating the container for each participant to share their thoughts, feelings, struggles, experiences, and goals. It started the countdown of time allotted for the focus group.

Confidentiality Agreement:

Next, I explained that the recording of the session is only for the purposes of my notes. I also assured them that their names will not be used or shared with anyone outside of the group.

Explanation of the Process:

“Now I am going to explain to you how this is focus group going to work. We have one hour together to do three things: an ice breaker, an exercise, and follow up questions. Don’t worry about checking the time, I will take care of this for us.

There are no wrong answers and all of your contributions are important. So please do not stress about what you have to offer; authentic responses are the most helpful. If you can try to have fun! Does anyone have any questions?

Icebreaker:

I began warming up the group for creative contributions by using an icebreaker. This activity asked each participant to share two things about themselves that they are proud of and one of their growing edges. I explained that these can be keywords or short examples that give the group and idea of who they are and what is important to them. I went first to model a response to eliminate any confusion:

“I am proud of how I am always there for my friends and my ability to make the perfect salad dressing from scratch. My growing edge is cleaning the bathroom without being asked by my partner.”

The reason I decided to use this question as the initial icebreaker is so that participants are given the space to check in with themselves, be reminded that their authentic contributions are worth listening to and that no one is perfect. I believe this created an atmosphere that allowed for whatever level of sharing each participant was comfortable with: brief statements about their personality or core attitudes/behaviors. Both levels of sharing will help the Starsdance team get to know their users, empathize with them, and create a prototype for future users.

The icebreaker seemed to work well: each participant was ready to share what made them proud and what they were working to change. Some listed qualities like “good listener” and “helps strangers” while others referred to specific things they have done that made them feel proud like “I taught my niece how to jump rope and she loves it now!” The things that people were working on included learning a new language, saying sorry more often, swearing less, and not holding grudges.

Daydream Exercise:

After the icebreaker was completed, we moved onto the “Daydream Exercise.” The goal of this exercise was for each participant to organically describe what their ideal experience of online community looks like to them. The following comes from the script created for the focus group.

“Great! Now let’s move onto our exercise, which is called ‘The Daydream Exercise.’ For this, each of you will be asked to visualize your favorite device for social media and using that device to visit your ideal online community. Maybe this website exists already and does exactly what you want! Maybe it hasn’t been invented yet. Either way, do your best to envision the browser opening to the home page and then share with us what you see and what you would do from start to finish.

You will all have a little over five minutes to share your daydream with us and will be given a one minute warning before your time is up. Does anyone have any questions about how this will work?”

Participant #1

This person envisioned a community where there were easy to access categories of conversation topics. This allowed them to read about what interested them and ignore the ones they did not care about. They said that it was really important for the site to be ad-free: as this made the site feel “more friendly” than “corporate.” They said lots of pictures and the ability to customize their profiles how they wanted were also two things they really wanted from a social media collective.

Participant #2

This person shared visions of a community where people could talk about social issues and all of the intense things happening in the world. They said that they wanted to hear how other people are coping and offer suggestions of what people can do to help with anti racism and decolonization work. This person was passionate about creating change in the world and wanted to opportunities to network with people doing similar community work (online and offline) all around the world.

Participant #3

This person said they also wanted to do social justice work on social media with others. They said that their ideal online community was a place where they could authentically express their frustrations and hopes without being verbally assaulted by people who did not agree. They said that they also wanted to be able to silence notifications and updates when they became too overwhelmed by discussions and needed a break.

Participant #4

This person said that she loves social media that doesn’t have too many confusing options. Big, obvious buttons and text that can be resized helps her feel more engaged and willing to comment on what other people are saying. She said that communities than offer online classes that let her print out documents instead of reading a lot of text on a screen keeps her eyes from becoming exhausted.

Participant #5

This person shared that her daydream included seeing people who looked like her across the site. She said she didn’t want to feel left out and wanted to be able to have meaningful conversations with people from different backgrounds. She wants to learn about many different spiritual practices and develop relationships with supportive people who would let her be who she is. She also expressed a desire to have a place where she could track what workshops are happening and when they are happening.

Follow up Questions:

“Wow, it really sounds like everyone has a pretty clear vision of what they want for online community! Thank you all so much for sharing.

Now we are going to move onto the follow up question portion of the session. I will ask a question and then call on each one of your to answer it. Then we’ll repeat that process until all of the questions are answered. Let’s get started.”

The following list of questions were asked to the group. The responses of each participant are listed below:

Question: What is your favorite online community website or app?

Participant #1 — Instagram
Participant #2 — Discord
Participant #3 — Discord
Participant #4 — Facebook
Participant #5 — Facebook

Question: What is your least favorite online community website or app?

Participant #1 — Facebook
Participant #2 — Facebook
Participant #3 — Facebook
Participant #4 — Twitter
Participant #5 — Reddit

Question: What is your favorite aspect of online community?

Participant #1 — Inspiration for craft projects
Participant #2 — Organizing and hosting events
Participant #3 — Stress-relief
Participant #4 — Staying connected with family members
Participant #5 — Support and empowerment

Question: What is your least favorite aspect of online community?

Participant #1 — Ads
Participant #2 — Their information being sold to advertisers
Participant #3 — Bullying
Participant #4 — Updates
Participant #5 — the Like button

Question: What device do you use the most for browsing social media?

Participant #1 — Phone
Participant #2 — Laptop
Participant #3 — Phone
Participant #4 — Tablet
Participant #5 — Phone

Question: What problems have you encountered in online communities?

Participant #1 — “Annoying” advertisements everywhere
Participant #2 — Rude people
Participant #3 — Being harassed by people they do not know
Participant #4 — My comments are not posted in the right place
Participant #5 — Not enough diversity

Question: What aspect of social media makes you feel like you can express yourself most authentically?

Participant #1 — Profile photo
Participant #2 — Comments
Participant #3 — Personal messages
Participant #4 — Comments and photos
Participant #5 — My tagline

Wrap Up:

“That’s it! Thank you all again so much for participating in this focus group. Your feedback will be really useful as we begin to create a prototype. Please let me know if you have any further questions and have a great day everyone.”

Step #5: Analyze the feedback

After the focus group, the transcript from the session was transcribed to ensure accuracy. Then lists of emotional points, ideal features, patterns, takeaways, and word choices were created to serve as a guide for the next step of the creative process.

Emotional Points

Anti-racism

Bullying

Connecting with loved ones

Data being sold to advertisers

Decolonization

Feeling included

Social justice

World events

Features
Ad free
Category lists
Civil discussion
Connection
Customization
Easy resizing of text
Event listings
Inspiration
Learning opportunities
Networking
PDFs available for print
Photos
Simplicity
Patterns

A desire to chat about what matters most to them without harassment

Connecting with people far away for personal and collective purposes

Learning and exploring various topics with other people

A willingness to connect with those who are different than them

Takeaways
Being able to talk about big issues in a safe space is important
Simple interfaces that feature inclusive images are more likely to be used
Facebook is both loved and hated
Having a space to both relax and become excited with others is desired
Phone is the most popular choice for social media use
Updates that change UI element locations are frustrating
Word Choices
  • Accountability
  • Allies
  • Categories
  • Challenging
  • Change
  • Customize
  • Decolonize
  • Diversity
  • Coping
  • Civil
  • Empowerment
  • Express
  • Friendly
  • Inspiration
  • Learn
  • Meaningful
  • Network
  • Opportunities
  • Oppression
  • Overwhelm
  • Printer-friendly
  • Responsive
  • Safe space
  • Support
  • Track
A line drawing of the mysterious and potent Starsdance Mystery School logo

Step #6: Report results and prepare for next steps

For the full case study about Starsdance Mystery School’s website design (including usability tests of the prototype) please visit the case study page of my website!