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Surveys and focus groups are good tools to evaluate users' interests and feelings about a product (or potential product).  They can be a starting point for determining areas you want to focus more in depth research like observations and contextual inquiry.

Surveys

Strengths

  • Getting general feelings about an existing product
  • Acquiring demographic data on target market
  • Understanding what users "think" is important (marketing data)

Weaknesses

  • Survey design is very difficult to get right
  • Constrained responses
  • Typically limited time & focus for response
  • Limited or not ability to follow-up for clarification
  • Relies on user to self-report accurately

Survey Design Resources

Focus Groups

Strengths

  • Can talk to many people at once
  • Allows users to feed on each others' ideas 
  • Can help understand users' attitudes, beliefs and desires
  • Useful for getting users' reactions to ideas or to prototypes

Weaknesses

  • Not great for understanding what people REALLY do with a product
  • Not good for understanding what features people will really use in a new product (only what interests them)
  • "Group think" drives people toward consensus with the loudest opinion
  • Relies on user to self-report accurately

Focus Group Resources

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