Focus Groups vs Usability Testing, in brief

I was at a General Assembly socializing event last evening, and some one asked me if I could explain UX to him. Part of our conversation involved the discussion of user testing – at which point he suggested that focus groups sounded like the same thing as user testing. I explained to him that they were different, essentially in that focus groups are usually marketing driven; and that usability testing is led by UX designers and one-on-one.

Below is a summary comparison, culled from Steve Krug’s ‘Don’t Make Me Think’, which sits on my coffee table.

Focus groups are best completed in the planning stages of designing a product or feature. It’s often 5 – 10 people talking about their feelings; how they might feel doing such and such; so they help define what a product might be. And, to some extent, if it should even be designed in the first place. Most often, marketing leads these research sessions.

Usability testing is best completed throughout the entire life cycle of the product – before, during and after things are built. It’s 1 person using – or attempting to use – the product. This form of testing helps us see where users get stuck when using our product.