Creating a Focus Group for Your Higher Ed Redesign – Pt1

Est. Reading Time: 4 minutes

(This is part one of a two part article)

At the time it was created, your website may have met every online objective defined by university administrators. However, things change with time. Shifting technologies, user habits and objectives change the ways in which we appeal to our target audience. A website redesign is needed every now and then. With so many audiences to address including students, prospective students, alumni, and more, this can seem a daunting task. What works well with your existing design? What needs to be changed? You may have your own ideas however, you can’t know what every user may be thinking.

Assembling a Focus Group

There are numerous ways to collect user data to assist you in your redesign. You can send a user survey or questionnaire, for example. While this method can provide some useful information, your feedback is one dimensional as there is no way to ask for explanation. Additionally, one cannot read the subject’s body language or witness the group dynamic. There is no opportunity for give and take.

I strongly suggest conducting focus groups in person, if possible. In person groups allow for follow up questions and clarification. One can more easily identify agreement across the group, provoke thought and prompt participants to offer suggestions.

Identify Your Primary Audience

Before you go any further, it is imperative that you identify your target audience(s). There may be many different potential user groups you’d like to address with your redesign. However, when you try to please everyone, you often please no one. So identify the 3 or 4 major players. This ensures that your website will have the required focus to be effective. It also works to keep your focus group at a manageable number.

How big should your focus group be?

I’ve found that the best way to facilitate the desired give and take is to keep the size of each group at around 10-15 individuals. Once you get beyond 15, it’s a case of diminishing returns. It becomes difficult for a moderator to steer the conversation and ask follow up questions if there are too many voices in the room.

Inviting Focus Group Participants

Be aware of the fact that each of your focus groups behave differently. That’s why they’re here. This extends to their willingness to participate. Extend invitations to more students than any other group. Their participation levels tend to be lower than others so provide an incentive to attend. For students, free food often does the trick.

How to Develop Questions for a Focus Group

While there are a certain number of questions you absolutely need the answer to, allow for ample time to address questions that your focus group participants have. These can be as illuminating as any questions you may have. Plan on 10 or fewer questions per 60 minute session. Answers to these will very likely lead to new questions you may have not anticipated. While the questions will differ for each of your four focus groups, there are some basic guidelines designed to facilitate meaningful responses and avoid “yes” and “no” answers.

Remember to:

  • Arrange your questions in a logical order.
  • Start with higher level questions and get more granular as you go.
  • Ask open ended questions. These include questions that address design, content and intended usage and require more than a “yes” or “no” answer.
  • Encourage questions by participants.

This concludes part one of a two part article entitled “Creating a Focus Group for your Higher Ed Redesign”. As one of the nation’s premier website builders for Higher Ed, Beacon has been providing colleges and universities with redesign consultation and services for almost 20 years. We invite questions or comments regarding your redesign goals. Feel free to contact me or call one of our team members at 1.855.467.5447.

Keana Lynch
Keana Lynch is the Director of UX Design & Development at Beacon where she has provided leadership and consultation for over 35 Higher Education projects. She specializes in the analysis, design, and implementation of websites. Keana is very passionate about design and development strategies focused on user experience, accessibility, multi-device interactions, and technical best practices. Outside of work Keana enjoys spending time with her three dogs, hiking, kayaking and volunteering with local animal rescue groups.

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