Usable Usability. Are you impacting product design cycle in a good way? / by Gavin Lau


Recruit the right user

Believe it or not recruiting the right user for your usability test is even more important than the test itself. If you are a small UX agency or a multinational enterprise, you have challenges when looking for right people to recruit.

Let’s assume you have a participant pool or use an agency to recruit, you should ask yourself Do they represent your target audience?! And I’m not talking just about few screener questions that tell you some basic information about each participant. If users you recruit are not representative of the major users your team is designing for, then your test will not bring any valuable insight into the product team!

If your team has already created a persona, then try to recruit users as close as to the persona. If your team does not have any persona created and there is no time for it, simply chat with your key stakeholders in product team and find few key possible characteristics which can help you to identify who you are targeting [and don’t be surprised if they didn’t know!].

Also, Avoid professional participants. Believe it or not, some people are making living out of this. They sign up for every agency and any user study they see. This might dramatically cause your research to be biased, as often I learned these types try to please you and say what you like to hear, instead of a genuine response which is what you need to influence smarter decisions.

Recruiting is tricky and what I just said was probably 2 out of 234 recruiting tips from The Don Norman group.

Be Aware!

People behave differently when they are observed. It is a FACT! The goal here is to make users as comfortable as possible so they perform the tasks as close as possible to a regular situation where they are not in a usability lab. That’s all I know! Make them feel comfortable and build RAPPORT.

Be a politician!

Be friend with stakeholders!

Tomer Sharon in his book, IT’S OUR RESEARCH says:

“50% of my time is devoted to research planning, execution or analysis, and the other 50% involves politics”.

Being a good listener is not just for the usability room and with users. Listen carefully to your stakeholders for two reasons.First to understand what exact insight they need from the test. This will inform your usability study design. Second, try to understand what is their side and what do they believe to death about the product you are testing. This will help you to massage your report and make it consumable, rather than destroying all they have done.

Bring key stakeholders to the usability table! This is MAGIC! Not only it helps you to get buy-in, also the first-hand experience of watching a user struggling to figure out how to make sense of a feature generates empathy and injects User-Centred juice into stakeholders brain.

Often design team, developers and project managers are so immersed in their work, which they forget at the end if intended users can’t make sense of the products, the mission is failed!

Make sure to tell stakeholders not to interrupt the session and not to talk to the participant unless you say so. Ask them to keep their questions for the end if you plan to have any.

Don’t party the night before

Get a good night sleep before the test day

If you already scheduled an intense day of testing with users, and if sessions are long, chances are that you get sick of what users are saying repeatedly and that will cause losing focus and interest which participants can easily tell if you are not interested and that might affect their responses. This is critically important if YOU are the MODERATOR!

Shut up! Listen and nudge

Do not ask YES/NO questions!

Aim for open-ended questions, and avoid those that end up with a simple answer of yes or no. Not only these questions will not have any qualitative insights, but they might also force users to give you false data as they want to please you and not look dumb. Instead, focus on questions that give you insights about WHY a certain thing happens or HOW it affects the user.

Encourage talk but do not lead the conversation

In another word, Shut up and listen! It is the most important skill a UX researcher MUST have especially when it comes to interviewing and moderating usability studies. Be an active listener, make eye contact appropriately.

This is not a lecture

Practice lean notetaking

Do not try to take notes from everything. This won’t help you for a quick analysis at the end. Being a good note taker ain’t easy. I suck at it big times! Anyway, make sure to be absolutely focused. Here is how I try to take notes:

  • From the things that surprises me [unexpected behaviours].
  • When the user gets confused and struggles [Make sure to note WHY they struggle, not just the fact that they struggle!].
  • When I see or hear something from a user that might answer a stakeholder question.

If you can, try to have someone else to take notes and focus on being a good moderator. Make eye contact if it helps to build rapport but do not distract the user.

One test stand

Do not recruit the same users for the future iteration of the same product!

The nature of design iterative process indicates that you make something, you test it and make it better and AGAIN! This means you will need to test the same feature over and over and over again as it improves. Users who already tested a product will have prior knowledge, therefore having them to test another iteration of the same feature they are already familiar might not give you the insight you look for. That being said, cases are different. Sometimes you want to know if a certain product pleases the current users, and in that case you may actually recruit users who have prior knowledge.