Qualitative research is an essential tool in understanding human experiences, and uncovering more to the story than numbers can tell alone. At Cast & Hue, most of our research is centered around identifying customer needs and decision-making drivers, so qualitative research is a key part of our work. 

There are many options out there for conducting qualitative research, with two of the most common being interviews and focus groups. Interviews typically happen with one researcher exploring the views and experiences of one participant. Focus groups involve roughly four to eight participants whose discussion is facilitated by a moderator. While both have their uses, there are some important differences between them.

We prefer in-depth interviews as our primary method of conducting research, as they allow us to discover deeper insights about the individual’s experiences. Focus groups have some best use cases such as finding a consensus or gathering general feedback, but there are also limitations to what they can do. 

Empathetic Connection

Empathy is an important part of everything we do, as it is fundamental to understanding those we are designing experiences for, and identifying what is most important to them. In order to get to the heart of their emotional needs, we must begin by establishing empathy with the audiences we’re speaking with. As a researcher conducting an interview with one person, you are able to connect more directly with the participant and focus 100% of your attention on them and their perspective. As we walk through their journey, this sets a fundamental baseline of mutual understanding. In a focus group on the other hand, multiple perspectives are being presented at once. Because part of the researchers’ attention is dedicated to managing the flow of information from the group as a whole, focus and understanding of each individual can be lost. 

Depth of Insight

During an interview, we walk through the journey a customer has with the product, service or experience we want to learn more about. Using a discussion guide, we probe around the most impactful moments in a customer journey, and strive to get to the core of a thought or idea. These discussion guides are guardrails for the conversation, but we have the flexibility to dig deeper if we hear something interesting, or restructure the conversation to encourage sharing from the participant. This flexibility and attention would not be possible in a focus group where we have a limited amount of time to get the feedback of everyone in the group. In order to be effective in representing the responses of those involved, more structure is needed in a focus group to get through all of the questions the researchers have. 

Group Bias

Another reason we prefer interviews is that focus groups create an artificial scenario compared to a one-on-one conversation, and can lead to response biases like groupthink. Groupthink refers to a situation in which an individual makes decisions in a group setting due to the desire to conform to the opinion of the larger group. This can be because of a desire to create harmony, or a fear of exclusion or judgment. It’s been proven that people are more likely to show biases or adjust answers depending on others in the room, and there’s always the risk of one strong voice dominating the conversation. We’re interested in a wider range of unbiased answers, which people are most likely to give when they are free of the stress and pressure they experience in a group setting.

Key Takeaways

Interviews can sometimes appear intimidating and time consuming, compared to the relative ease and anonymity of focus groups or surveys. But to uncover unique insights that go beyond a typical satisfaction index or one line review, in-depth conversations rooted in empathy and understanding are key. Interviews actually provide a more supportive and flexible environment to give authentic and valuable feedback. 


What are some questions you'd like to ask your customers if you were to sit down with them over a cup of coffee? Let's talk about it! Reach out through castandhue.com/contact

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