Updated: Oct 23, 2019
Peter Müller, Technical University of Munich
Did you ever wonder how developers know what their future users want? Well, often they just don’t know and really funny stuff can happen during development and after release. If you ever downloaded a so-called day-one patch, you have a vague idea of what I am talking about.
However, we didn’t want our digital toolkit to rely completely on some odds, so we did some methodic user research, applying focus groups. After all, our project isn’t just another research project on nutrition, health, and language, but aims at involving users just like you offering some things to learn and collecting your feedback to improve on the health-claim-related communication between manufacturers, consumers, and even policy makers.
Focus groups are a common technique in marketing research and requirements engineering. You assemble groups, diverse or homogenic, who shall represent your future user groups. Thus, we decided to assemble homogenic groups of different user types we imagine to have and are addressing: students (they were, from a university point of view, also easy to get), health-conscious men, mothers, and older adults.
We showed them our prototype, the mockup of interface and games/activities we had so far. First, we learned that our games rather represented activities. We learned that most participants were more interested a linear progression within the application, and that some contemporary aesthetic elements like drag-and-drop were missing. They also gave us an idea of what information when to give.
Our groups were all, indeed, focused and helped us a lot, also providing their own ideas for the toolkit within our mini-designathon. You may wonder how a selected group of participants can provide insights concerning a much larger group of future users: well, they don’t, but they give important ideas which are then selected and processed in a rather qualitative and expertise-grounded process. Nevertheless, focus groups can reveal problems you have neglected so far. So we have learned, for example, that users may not always comply in the way we assumed them to. They might be more interested in messing with possibilities than revealing their personal preferences. A tricky issue, but we are prepared by now… ;)
After the work was done, all our participants were given remuneration, but they also seemed to have fun. So if you have the chance to be part of a focus group, you should definitely consider taking that chance!