Guerrilla Focus Group Research

Story Text:

I was in a hospital waiting room the other day (long story I don't want to go into), and I noticed they now have internet connected computers in the ICU waiting room.

Well, as I waited for news, there was another family there and two girls got onto the computer. I couldn't help looking 'over their shoulder' to see how they were surfing. Later on, another woman and her boyfriend sat down too and surfed. I tried not to watch, but I couldn't help myself! Her boyfriend gave me a weird look once, but they didn't say anything. I was going to tell them why I was staring, but I didn't want to disturb their 'natural searching' and ended up getting called away shortly after they sat down.

I saw/heard wonderful things, though. For one, she typed Yahoo into the url and used it to search. She was looking up info on a certain type of medicine. She clicked the first result in the SERP. On that site, which was selling stuff - not an info site, I thought she would go back to the SERPs, but she didn't. She clicked around five times or so, even trying the site search button. After finding nothing, she went back to Yahoo and said something to the affect of "there's a lot of stuff to buy X medicine..."

She then typed webmd (i think) into the browser address bar and found her info.

Now, maybe it's rude, but I find watching people surf (especially when they don't know you're watching) to be fascinating as a web designer. It's like an SEO/Webmaster form of people watching. ;)

I've tried to watch my wife surf before, but she usually knows I'm watching and I think she changes her habits.

Anyway, I was thinking libraries or college computer labs would be another good place to do some 'guerrilly focus group research.' I doubt I will, though, because of the rudeness factor.

Has anyone else does something similar before, or am I just a weirdo? ;)



Has anyone else does something similar before, or am I just a...

No, you're not. There's a whole industry dedicated to this - human factors engieneering. I once got some research done (usability type stuff) and what they did was contact several of our customers who used the site every day, got permission to set up cameras at their work (from the individual people, they were pointed at their PC screens) and left them for a week. You'd think the cameras would bother them - but apparently (or so the guy told me) they usually forget after the first hour. The edited highlights at the end were pure gold. I'd love that job... :)

University of Amserdam

Does exactly what you mentioned with cameras in their computer labs.

I've done user tests and focus groups nauseam, or at least a few :) The Guerilla style you described (as well as the cams edit_g mentioned) is something else, because here you see people in their "natural environment" (well, sort of). With traditional focus groups, screen behaviour is hard to interpret, firstly because it's a group (around six-eight persons in one room usually), and second because they're very aware that they are in a "non-normal" situation.

With user research you usually have just one person in front of the screen at a time, and then you either monitor the screen or the person as well (remotely via cam, and usually also one researcher in the room). As with focus groups this does not happen "at home" and the subject of the study is planned in advance, so you don't get to see "natural behaviour".

That's basically why it's so expensive - there's a lot of qualified interpretation that needs to be done. The Guerilla method really seems interesting - i'm not sure anyone does that in a more organized fashion. Myself? I observe "average PC users" every time get the chance *lol*

I was wondering

With all the internet cafe's about, would it be interesting just to sit in one for a day and watch what's going on - as long as you don't wear a long raincoat. And taking it further, if you placed a few well thought out questions to the people who actually work in these places, I am sure it would be worthwhile.

me too

- i'm sort of "in that business" (among others) and that post got me wondering... it's a lot of man-hours, though...


Internet cafe's have always been a favourite thing for me to suggest as a way of doing 'guerilla market research'. Been suggesting it since the early days at the sadly defunct MarketPositionTalk forums in the late Nineties and still suggest it today.

It's a tip I've always been fond of advocating and it has some interesting applications. Jim Banks posted a fine example of some of the interesting things it can tell you when we were discussing the unique demographic presented by Espotting's placement as the default search for the EasyEverything high-street chain of Internet Cafe's.

Focus groups are not usability

I am in the usability business as well, and it is fascinating to watch people stumble through a site trying to figure out something. While I do enjoy watching someone surf 'naturally', I get a lot more out of watching people with a given task stumble through a web site trying to find something.

I've learned many things, one of which is that people need -- and want -- to be told what to do on the web: they turn off their brains when they surf and are easily overwhelmed by too many choices.


i am involved in usability as well, and actually do "monitor" a few internet cafes. It really is intriguing the choices users make on the web, where their mouse goes to first. The best is when they scroll over the section of the page they are looking at, so you can better see how they digest different information structures and other stimuli.

I'm not sure if anyone else has this but this gym i go to has touch screen monitors with internet access on the cycles so you can work out and watch people surf :-) I really do sound creepy now, don't I.

thanks everyone...

glad to know i'm not alone in this. ;)

it's not really specific usability, although the one lady did have a task (find info on drug X) so i could see how she went about completing it - start with yahoo, see a lot of ads, type in webmd...

i do think you have to be careful doing this, though, because people could get freaked out if they don't know *why* you're staring at them surfing...

thanks again...

this type of stuff is fascinating

does anyone publish their findings?

not anything more than this...

i don't really take notes or anything, though.

if anyone *has* published findings on this, i'd love to see them too.

Gurtie: I'm working on it.

I am working on putting some of my findings up...should be up in a few days..standby.

a bit offtopic

but probably interesting if you like this whole usability/psych stuff.

The BBC reports synaesthesia findings

"Interestingly, we've recently analysed the letter-colour combinations of a very large number of people with synaesthesia and found that there are significant trends in their preferences.

"For example, people with synaesthesia tend to want A to be red, S to be yellow and Z to be black."

She said her research also revealed that people without synaesthesia have significant preferences for the colours of letters.

"Some of these choices were fairly obvious, such as 'O' being orange, but some were quite intriguing, and showed a similarity to those of people with synaesthesia."

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