Focus Groups vs. One-on-One Interviews (When and Why)

Ila Maheshwari
May 28 · 6 min read
Focus group Vs One-On-One interview

Focus Group Discussions

Focus groups are a research method used to gather feedback and opinions from customers. Each person in the group is encouraged to participate in a discussion which is pre-planned by a researcher and is guided by a facilitator. They are typically used to gauge opinion and gather information from users about products, services, and features before they have been developed.

It is a research method used to gather feedback and opinions from customers. Aligning the approach with the objectives was an overarching theme even among professionals who strongly favor one technique over the other. Thus, our next questions are, what are the “when and why” answers the experts gave?

Here listed are some scenarios to help you choose which approach is better in which situation -

  1. Discovery and exploration of new markets & concepts: Focus groups are well suited for finding new possibilities in the market or trying to explore new concepts. They are indeed the best way to exchange viewpoints and discuss disagreements between consumers.
  2. Simulate real-world response/maximize realism: It is hard to get the actual answer from the respondent, because they always tend to modify the answer according to the situation or to the interviewer in order not to be disrespectful of their product. It is better to use focus group when one wants to get a more realistic response from the participants.
    When eight to ten people come together to present their views on a topic or feature then it is more obvious to get what they actually think of it. As the number increases in participants then the possibility of conflict can also increase which promotes more general thoughts to comes into light.
  3. Get an overview: During the Focus group discussions, everyone puts out their first thought about the topic rather than getting into the deeper discussions. If you want to discuss a topic and get to know others opinion about it then this is the best approach.
    While in one to one interviews, one may want to go deeper and can start sharing their experiences related to the topic, which will result in a waste of time, if you don’t want to have detailed discussions on it. In a focus group, participants don’t get enough time to explain their thoughts in detail due to the shortage of time.
  4. Explore consensus or lack of: If you want to inspect a topic from all the aspects then It is good to use focus group.The advantage of having a minimum of 7 to 8 people in a group is that everyone can provide feedback explaining where they are lacking while using your product. You can also get general agreement on a specific feature or decision.
    It’s the human tendency to think of what can go wrong than what will be right. To judge someone’s opinion, so when people are in group then possibility of figuring out “the lacking” can be increased.
  5. Concentrate observer/research time and effort: If you are planning a low budget research then it is better to use Focus group because during IDI(individual depth interview) you have up to an hour of interaction with each subject.
    While each group member in group get only about 10 minutes to speak on average. You can do a typical two-group-per-day design in about four hours, versus an entire day for six to twelve IDIs. This utilizes the time demand on busy observers and researchers.
  6. Understand commonalities within and differences between segments: Focus groups provide the best opportunity to explore decisions and compare differences and similarities among reference group members. Because 8 to 10 people have different mindset related to a topic which is why it is more likely to cover all aspects when you want to find similarities within your product.
    Focus groups are recommended when the client wants to gain multiple perspectives, unfiltered feedback of a large group. In it, participants get involved in the brainstorming activity which leads to generating ideas. As participants truly open up and freely share feelings/perceptions upon the subject as per their experiences. When one participant’s opinion/perception feeds off of another’s opinion/perception and so on, the group discussion can really dig deep into the issue.
  7. Avoid “please the interviewer” (rapport or transference) effects: The major drawback with the face-to-face interview is the presence of interviewer bias. In the context of research, characteristics of the interviewee may prompt the interviewer to exhibit various cues to the interviewee, resulting in skewed or biased responses.
    An Interviewer’s effect could also include social desirability on the part of the subject, as they would tailor their responses to be seen in a favorable light if the interviewer expresses a negative reaction. That is why focus groups are well suitable if you want your participants to put unbiased answers. In a focus group, it is more likely to receive both the response either negative or positive.

One-On-One Interviews

A user interview is a UX research method during which a researcher asks one user questions about a topic of interest (e.g., use of a system, behaviors and habits) with the goal of learning about that topic.

Unlike focus groups, user interviews are one-on-one sessions (although occasionally several facilitators may take turns asking questions). UX Interviews tend to be a quick and easy way to collect user data, so they are often used, especially in Lean and Agile environments.

Interviews provide insights about a users thoughts on a website, an application, a product, or a process. They can point out which website’s content is memorable, what people feel is important on the website, and what ideas for improvement they may have.

They are well suitable for -

  1. Facilitate use of projective, other individual-based “depth” techniques: Projective Techniques are indirect and unstructured methods of investigation. They have been developed by psychologists to infer respondent’s underlying motives, urges or intentions.
    These aspects cannot be secured through Focus groups, as the respondent will either resists to reveal them or is unable to figure out himself. They are useful in giving respondents opportunities to express their attitudes without personal embarrassment. You should opt for individual-based interviews in order to use projective techniques.
  2. Explore very sensitive, embarrassing, controversial or “personal” topics: Sensitive topics, such as serious illness, an accident, subjects which are highly personal (e.g., bankruptcy) or very detailed (e.g., divorce decrees) required individual interview. The participants might not be comfortable in discussing it in front of people or the discussion can also lead into emotional breakdown.
    In individual interviews, it is more likely for interviewee and interviewer to get comfortable with each other which will benefit in getting more information about the topic. The risk with using focus group in such cases is that it may generate controversies between participants which can be turned into even serious fights.
  3. Study low-prevalence or hard-to-recruit respondent segments: When you want to recruit participants who are not easy to recruit such as tropical tribes, coal workers, LGBT communities, etc. then it is good to go for individual interviews.
    People from such communities are not much public friendly or will feel embarrassed in front of a focus group to speak about actual problems. It is also important to use interviews in order to go deeper in the field and understand the actual problems they faced.
  4. Study many different respondent segments or types: Customer Segmentation is a method to categorize customers into groups based on certain parameters such as age, interests, behavior, geography, etc.
    When you want to obtain detailed information about a segment then it is good to go for individual interviews of each segment rather than a focus group. Focus groups are not appropriate for these cases because different segment of users have different opinions and use cases about a product which will rise more arguments between group members rather than finding the insights that are useful.
    It is better to go in deeper conversations with each segment user using proper follow-up questions and giving individual enough time to respond back.
  5. Gain detailed, in-depth individual understanding:In-depth interviews are a qualitative data collection method that involves direct, one-on-one engagement with individual participants. With the help of in-depth interviews, the interviewers are able to understand their respondents deeper.
    The interviewers are also able to obtain an insight about the respondent and gain more knowledge than any focus group. Individual interviews allow you to probe users attitudes, beliefs, desires, and experiences to get a deeper understanding of the users who had gone through your product.
    Individual interviews resemble focus groups because they involve talking with users but they differ because in individual interviews you:
  • Talk to only one person at a time
  • Have more time to discuss topics in detail
  • Do not have to worry about the group dynamics that inevitably occur in focus groups
  • Can give the interviewee your full attention and adjust your interviewing style to your interviewee’s needs


Online User Testing platform

Ila Maheshwari

Written by

User Researcher



Online User Testing platform