Recruiting the Right People for User Research

July 22, 2016

One of our favorite mantras at Crux Collaborative is “You are not your user”. It reminds us not to assume that our design will automatically make sense to our client’s target users. We realize that it can be tempting to assume that the user experience you and your team created makes logical sense and that it will also work well for your users. We find that this is not always the case and often can be a very costly assumption to fix.

When we conduct user research, we want to find people that best represent our client’s primary user profiles. In this article, we’ll explore how recruiting participants can easily make or break the quality of your results and how our process helps identify and recruit the right participants.

Who is your target audience?

Before we start recruiting participants for a usability study, we encourage our clients to come to the table with background about their primary users. Understanding the attributes of your primary audiences helps us formulate relevant questions and tasks for them based on their behavior and preferences. While some believe that any user research is better than no user research, we find that recruiting participants who closely represent your target audience (as opposed to anyone you can convince to fill the schedule) will vastly improve the overall quality of the feedback we get. Good feedback is the foundation for well-informed recommendations for improvement later.

You can identify your target audience by asking the following questions:

  • What is the gender ratio of your audience (mostly men, women, or an even mix)?
  • What age ranges do most of your users fit into?
  • Do other demographics such as income level, location, career, or marital status matter for your website or application?
  • Are you targeting specific devices for the test, such as Android or iPhone? You may want to consider recruiting participants who are familiar with those devices to minimize confusion during the test.
  • Do participants need to be familiar with a specific process, such as transferring money between financial accounts or configuring a product?

How do you find participants who meet your criteria?

Once we have a better understanding about your target audience, we create a document called a screener that helps our recruiting partner interview and identify participants who demonstrate the same attributes of our client’s target user groups. The screener includes very specific questions that are intended to ensure that research participants will provide relevant feedback during the study. It also verifies that the participant can openly express his or her opinions. We want to make sure that our participants are comfortable talking out loud, and are willing to give direct feedback about what they are seeing on-screen.

Participant characteristics we don’t want:

  • People who participate in user research as a part-time job
    • Frequent participants usually “know the ropes” of user research and may not give genuine feedback and may be there only for the gratuity. We like to make sure that a participant has not done a research study within the last 6 months.
  • People who work in market research or highly technical people
    • Often we find that participants who work in the market research, user experience or for an advertising agency will provide detailed feedback that is not relevant to a process and more relevant to the brand position. Highly skilled technical people tend to focus more on the technology, page load times, etc.

Client Recruiting Lists

Sometimes our clients will provide a list of representative users. Many of the studies we work on require a highly specialized audience and sometimes it’s best to find those users via our client’s customer list. In this case, we like to recommend using a screening document that is a bit leaner, with fewer demographics questions since many of these people have already been “pre-screened”. We want to confirm that everyone demonstrates the attributes of our client’s target user groups and will be able to share their opinions in an interview setting.

One of the pitfalls to client recruiting lists is that often our clients want to recruit only their biggest customers. As tempting as it might be to use the usability evaluation to reconnect with your customers, remember that the quality of the feedback will drive recommendations for improvements later.

Working with a recruiter?

It can be tempting to save money by recruiting participants yourself, but we’ve found that there are many advantages to working with a recruiting company.

  1. They have a huge database of people who are interested in being contacted for research.
  2. They have the staff to call and screen people over the phone.
  3. They follow up with the participants to confirm their appointment times and help ensure a back up is available in the event someone has a conflict on test day.
  4. They provide feedback on screening documentation based on their experience.
  5. They can find highly specialized people in unusual niche markets.

We generally get the best participants from our recruiters, and these participants typically have a good track record of providing high quality feedback. Participants who sign up with a recruiting service are more likely to show up to the session on-time and ready to provide feedback. Recruiting companies also generally remove habitual no show participants form their list which helps reduce the risk of participants cancelling at the last minute.

If you’re interested learning more about your target users to better understand what they expect from your website or application, contact us. We would love to learn more about your project.

By Katherine Block
User Experience Consultant

Katherine is a jack of all trades with nearly every aspect of the UX process. Her broad approach enables her to fill gaps between the different phases of interactive design including Information Architecture, Development, and Project Management.

View Katherine's Bio


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