In Observing the User Experience, Mike Kuniavsky defines user research as “the process of understanding the impact of design on an audience.” It is easy to get excited about the design aspect of a project. The creative juices of the designers flow to create a prototype, the marketing group storyboards an exciting campaign, and business development is buzzing with the prospect of a new product that will open up revenue streams for the company. What may not be as exciting is finding people in the target audience to test the design, often in iterative cycles. However, this part of the research project cannot be taken lightly or overlooked. Recruiting the correct people for usability testing is crucial, not only for research, but the ultimate success of the product.
Kuniavsky identifies three basic steps for recruiting participants:
- Determine the target audience. Knowing who will use the product is essential before beginning user research. The best process is to use demographics, Web use and technological profiles to create an ideal audience profile.
- Finding representative members of that audience. Ask family, friends and co-workers for the names of people who fit the audience profile. Once a database is created, use a screener to filter the right participants for the test.
- Convince participants to take part in research. This involves scheduling primary and secondary participants, sending invitations and confirmation notices and making a plan for no-shows.
Other readings and sources about usability testing confirmed these as the basic steps involved in recruiting participants. However, a recent podcast featuring usability testing expert, Dana Chisnell, challenged the details of Kuniavsky’s recruiting plan.
Chisnell’s point of view differed from Kuniavsky in two major ways. First, she believes in recruiting participants based on behavior, not demographics. She argues that just because a person fits the demographic profile of an expected behavior, does not mean that the person executes the behavior. For example, demographics say that young people are more likely to use social networking websites, but there is a subset of young people who reject social media, and therefore would be bad participants for a study even though they fit the profile.
The other point that Chisnell disagrees with is the use of screeners. When recruiting for usability studies, Chisnell prefers to interview potential participants instead of using a multiple choice screener as described by Kuniavsky. She feels that relationships built between the recruiter and participant during the interview results in better quality users, who are more invested in the research and prepared to give honest feedback. She also states that the no-show rate she experiences is much lower because by the end of the interview process people feel they are an important part of the research. Most interestingly, Chisnell feels that screeners eliminate participants who are close to the target audience or who may be useful in testing future versions of the product. She advocates never terminating an interview with a potential group member, even if it appears they do not meet the criteria.
Is one of these methods better than the other or are they different sides of the same coin? I highly recommend that you listen to the podcast and decide for yourself. One thing is certain –research participants who do not match the target audience can render the best planned usability test useless, so recruiting well is a critical task during the research project.
Christiansen, B. (Producer) & Spool, J. (Host). (2009, December 9). Recruiting for Usability Testing Followup. SpoolCast. Podcast retrieved from : http://www.uie.com/brainsparks/2009/12/09/spoolcast-recruiting-for-usability-testing-followup/