User focus groups in developing nations

by Shareef Ayyad. Average Reading Time: about 2 minutes.

In her talk at UX London, Nokia’s UX Research Lead, Younghee Jung discusses some unconventional ways her team have approached focus groups in developing nations.

  • Lots of departments need info from research
  • Research can’t serve everyone. Not a crystal ball to predict customer behaviour
  • At Nokia, the demands of different departments meant user focus groups were often 6 hours long
  • Planning the focus group sessions was an interaction design task in itself. They needed to be kept engaged.


  • In focus groups you don’t always know the right questions to ask
  • Good place to start is emotion: how they feel about your product/design
  • When working in India, country is so multicultural. So many languages and high illiteracy meant that phone’s physical keyboard design was a challenge
  • In hindi, one key can have 6-8 characters
  • It was impossible to use, resulting in no one using SMS in local languages
  • Similar for internet use. Most people used English
  • Ran tests to design digital keyboard with hindi letters
  • Users wanted to show they knew English – pride. Didn’t want Hindi letters. Phone was recalled


  • Honesty is really difficult to get out of focus groups
  • Research with Indian farmers on using a phone app to communicate and learn from other farmers
  • Initial feedback was overwhelmingly positive
  • Answers were always higher level. No specifics about issues with app.
  • Nokia team learnt the farmers were too polite. They didn’t want to seem rude or ruin relationship with project.
  • They introduced team badges for them to wear in focus groups, and gave them pre-written arguments to read aloud and discuss that were both for and against the app
  • This acted as a catalyst to get them voicing their own opinions. They began a heated discussion that needed mediating, but their honest opinions came through


  • Unconventional activities often yield unexpected results, and highlight unknown user needs
  • Nokia held focus groups in shanty towns in Brazil, India and Ghana
  • Asked people to design their ideal phone by sketching on a sheet of paper, with annotations.
  • Refugees in Ghana came up with a split screen, where one is for international calls. These calls meant financial support from relatives abroad, so it was important to separate from local calls
  • Indian woman designed a phone to point to the sky to receive weather report. She was a farm worker and weather patterns effect crop yield
  • Ghanian woman wanted dual sim card slots to take advantage of deals on two sims.