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.

A Tale of Serendipity: iPhone Shortcuts & Bicycles

Recently, I found myself riding a rented bicycle down by the Santa Monica Pier. In an instant, as I rode behind my girlfriend, I realized I wanted to snap a picture of her. The picture would include the shadows of the underpass which played such a stark contrast against the fast approaching sun kissed beach path. I had to have that picture and it was out-of-the-question that we stop and pose it. That’s where the brilliance of the user experience design applied to the iPhone enfolds this story. Within a matter of about 3 seconds, I was able to accomplish the following left-handed, while continuing to pedal and steer my bike:

1) hit the wake-up button, i.e., Home button
2) swipe up on the camera icon shortcut that appears on the lock screen
3) frame my shot
4) snap my picture

Without the design including a shortcut to the camera in the lock screen, I would not have been able to capture my photo. The UX designers at Apple predicted my situation, probably by developing personas during the design process, and by conducting user tests. For this, I tip my hat to them and say “great f*cking job, you’ve made me a happy man”.

bicycling under the Santa Monica Pier
iPhone shortcuts help us capture serendipitous moments
bicycling and iPhone shortcuts
iPhone’s brilliant UX design allows us to use the camera while biking