Using Focus Groups To Inspire Your Next App

Our guest post is written by Anahelena of Zen Labs, creator of the Kid-Capsule family journal app. Anahelena has been brainstorming on what to create for her next title, and discussed ideas with a group of teens from her local high school. This story is a reminder that real input to validate ideas can save us time and money down the line. 

I wanted to see if Kid-Capsule would appeal to teenagers. I thought I could easily take my existing app, perform a few “cosmetic” changes, and launch a new app for a new market. Boy was I wrong! Thankfully, I decided to reach out to a few girls in my local high school. What I found out was that they would take the concept in an entirely different direction. You know what else I found out? That I don’t know anything about teenagers.

My initial plan was to show them the app and see what superficial changes should be made so it would appeal to their age group. After receiving some much needed input from the MWA developer community I decided to mix it up and add a few more items to our session.

Here are a few lessons I learned along the way:

Location, location, location: Pick your venue wisely. It will work better for you and your group if you are in a closed, air conditioned space.

Command attention: Situate yourself in front of your audience where you can see everyone and they can see you. That way you won’t lose their interest. A table could work, but it must be big enough to accommodate everybody comfortably.

Record the session: It would be ideal to take video (or at least audio) of what is being said. The sessions are organic and people spontaneously interject , so it becomes challenging to write every idea down.

Broad ideas: Think about asking broader questions before you dive into specifics of the app. Some sample questions could be:

  • If you had to choose one app or function of your device, what would it be?
  • What are your very favorite apps and why?
  • What makes you decide to actually buy an app?
  • How do you use your device to communicate with friends and family?
  • What would your dream app do? (Imagine there are no limits)

All of these questions are valid for any app focus group because they will give you “feature” ideas.

App Testing: If you want to have them test an existing app, you might have them do it in groups, or you could give the app to a single person and give the rest of the group a written activity or perhaps a “water” break.

Retribution: Some folks pay each attendee. In my case, I bought them each a Frappucino. Every focus group will be different. If you are on a tight budget, I think finding nonprofit community groups and offering a donation could be a good start.

Who else is doing focus groups, and what tips and techniques do you suggest? 

6 thoughts on “Using Focus Groups To Inspire Your Next App”

  1. I think focus groups is a great way to proof-test your own ideas.

    It is challenging however to do such testing on little kids – unless you have your own and they are of the age that you need 🙂

  2. I am a teacher and coming from that background I would suggest that if you have an educational app find some teachers and offer them a free code in exchange for feedback. I have done this frequently. I win because I get a free app and often based on feedback the app gets better for my purposes and the app developer wins because they get suggestions for the price of their app.

  3. My “focus group” includes me and my fellow homeschool moms since they will be my end user. Once I get this app mostly worked out, I hope to find other homeschool moms who don’t know me to field test it and tell me what changes they would like. 🙂

  4. GREAT reminder of the importance of getting in from of the customer :-)!

    My challenges include:
    – discovering and setting up the usability event
    – what is a “fair” payment.

    Jennifer – thanks for the thoughts on getting local teachers involved!

    Hmmm…I’m an introvert. Thus having some “intro” would help. Something like = say – a “Hi I’m a member of Moms With Apps. Our passion is to….”

    thank you for sharing your findings.

  5. If you’re doing focus groups with teenagers (or any child, if there parent is not going to be present), I always suggest letting the parents know first – and if you can’t do so beforehand, at least send home a letter explaining who you are and what you were doing with the focus group. My experience is that most people don’t mind at all, but you do want to avoid a situation where they hear about it after the fact and feel they should have been consulted.

    As for younger kids, we’ve been testing our game aimed at preschoolers for a few weeks and I’ve found that the following works the best for testing with young children:
    *A one-on-one situation where a parent/ caregiver is also present. If I happen to be testing siblings I’ll bring another iPad or activity to distract the second child so that each child gets quality time with the app. (I’ve learned the hard way to NEVER take my own kids along!)
    *I find I get my best feedback in the first 15 minutes – so I never try to stretch a session out longer than that. When I child has had enough, they have had enough!

    As a thank-you I like to ‘gift’ the family one or two kids apps through the AppStore (if they have an iPhone or iPad). I choose from my favourites in the MWA network – win for everyone!

  6. This is a great post. Thanks! My problem is that since the programming for my app is done by freelancers abroad – they usually need a specific storyboard to estimate the time and cost for the project and don’t appreciate changing it in the middle ( after showing it to a focus group for example) any one has a solution for that problem?

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