A Starter Guide To Recruiting Users For Usability Testing
Written by: Phil Hesketh
Usability testing is one of the best ways for UX researchers to see and understand how people really interact with your apps, product, or service. No matter how well you think you know your users, this type of testing always proves that there are still new things to learn at every stage of product development.
In this article we’ll be looking at the different types of usability testing you can explore to generate high-quality responses, and how to find participants that can help you achieve your research goals.
What you need to plan before you start recruiting
Before you start recruiting users for any usability testing, you need to create a roadmap to guide your research study. This will ensure everyone is moving towards the same goal, any distractions are kept to a minimum, and you’re conscious of any time and budget restraints.
With an effective UX process in place, you can ensure you’re talking to the people who can help you test your research hypotheses and enable you to reach the conclusions that will improve your product design.
As you’re mapping out your UX research plan, you should consider factors like:
Who are the right participants for usability testing for each particular study?
The method of recruitment you’ll use to find them
The questions, tasks, scenarios, and metrics you’ll need to evaluate your design
How you’ll screen participants to ensure they’re a good fit for your study
How many participants you’ll need to run an effective study
Whether you’ll offer incentives for participants, and in what form
How you’ll manage scheduling
How this usability testing fits into the overall business goals for your company and stakeholders
Types of usability testing
Usability testing is all about finding people who are willing to share their user experiences and test out your product or website for functionality.
Outside of finding enough participants to test your research hypotheses, you’ll also need to decide which type (or types) of usability tests will help you achieve this goal for any given study.
There’s no “right” method, and sometimes multiple test types can give you more conclusive results than running one or the other.
These are the most common usability testing methods:
If you’re in the early stages of the product design and development process, moderated testing can give you the detailed feedback you need to validate your proof of concept and create something that your users will love. It helps you understand the reasoning and context of how a user interacts with a product.
With this method of testing, moderators sit with each participant to give them instructions to complete tasks, enabling them to gather detailed feedback on how a person interacts with an app or product, which they can then use to create a design that’s simple and intuitive.
This method can be time-intensive for both participants and researchers. Participants might need to go out of their way to commute to the research lab, and even with online moderated tests, researchers can only complete so many sessions in a day.
Results in these types of tests can also be skewed by participants strictly following moderator instructions, without feeling they’re free to naturally interact with a product during their session. They might also be unconsciously led by the way a moderator interacts with them, or by the way they phrase their questions, which can give biased responses.
If time and budget constraints are an issue, or if you need a lot of participants to help reach a definitive research conclusion, moderated testing might not be the best option.
Unmoderated tests are unsupervised user tests that can be done in a lab — but they’re typically carried out remotely. They require that users complete tasks using their own phone or desktop computer to follow instructions and carry out the test.
These can include tests like:
5 second tests
First click tests
The main drawback of unmoderated testing is that feedback is limited to what’s recorded during the session. Researchers can’t dig deeper into any actions a user takes during the test which might yield more useful insights to help drive the design process.
If you’re just looking for answers to a specific usability question, or you need to measure a certain type of user behavior pattern, this type of testing might be your best option to get quick results and keep costs down.
In person testing
This method of testing requires a researcher and participants to be in the same room, meaning researchers will need to find a suitable space and the necessary equipment to run these tests.
On the upside, researchers can gather more valuable data points from participants such as body language cues, frustrations with using the product, and see how people move around in an app in real time.
But the restrictions to this method are that it’s time consuming, there’s a risk of participants not showing up for their scheduled research time, and that they will need to be compensated for their time and travel expenses.
With ideal participants potentially scattered across different countries and time zones, getting everyone into your office for in-person testing is next to impossible. Remote usability testing gives your participants the flexibility to take usability tests at a time and place that suits them.
These tests can be either moderated (e.g. with a researcher giving instructions online or over the phone) or unmoderated with automated prompts for participants.
For researchers, the upside to this type of testing is that it’s infinitely scalable if it’s unmoderated, which is ideal if you need a lot of people to test a new prototype or product improvement. It’s also much cheaper than in-person testing, so it saves a ton of time and resources for research teams.
The downsides to this method are that:
It’s difficult to run remote tests that involve complex tasks
There can be technical issues that cause participants to drop out
Without a researcher present, participant feedback can be limited
People might only be taking part to get an incentive payout
How to recruit users for usability testing
Depending on your timeframe, research resources, and budget constraints, there are a few different ways you can recruit users to reach your testing goals.
If you’ve got a CRM of existing users, or an internal research panel of employees and customers who are willing and eager to help with your research initiatives, this is a fast and effective way to recruit participants for usability tests.
These people are real users who are familiar with your brand and your product, and if they’re part of your research panel, they will have already given their consent to be contacted for user research purposes.
Your website or newsletter
Recruitment widgets and calls for testers can easily be set up on your company website to attract people who are interested in helping develop your product. These participants will most likely be familiar with your industry or app, making them good candidates to send through to your screening survey.
If you have a good customer base, your regular newsletter can also be an excellent way to recruit ideal users for your usability studies.
Guerilla testing refers to tapping into your existing network of friends, family, and work colleagues to find potential participants who might match the description of your ideal user for a specific round of usability testing.
You can also recruit random people in busy public places such as malls, airports, or cafes. We’re probably all familiar with this method, which involves being approached on the street and asked to perform a quick usability test on an ipad in exchange for a gift card or similar incentive.
If you need large amounts of qualitative data, and you need to test basic elements of your design or app functionality, this can be an effective way to run your usability tests. But people most likely won’t be your ideal users, and they will most likely be reluctant to give you more than a couple of minutes of time to help you — so this is something you need to bear in mind when you’re deciding whether or not to use this method.
The main downside of guerilla testing is that your results can be skewed by things like explicit and implicit biases, the fact that these people might not be representative of your target audience, and that people might only want the juicy reward you offered, without having much interest in the test itself.
Social media and online communities
If you’ve got a good idea about where your ideal participants might hang out online, these platforms and target groups can be a goldmine for finding usability test participants.
Places like Facebook groups, Reddit, Quora, Twitter, Slack and Discord channels, and LinkedIn groups are all active spaces where eager usability testers can be found to help you develop your product.
If you’ve been given a healthy budget for usability testing, you can reach out to agencies who specialize in user testing recruitment and product optimization.
These companies have access to large pools of participants, which means you can filter for people who closely match your ideal users for each study, plus they take things like screening, scheduling, informed consent, accessibility, and other admin tasks off your plate. These tests are usually completed within a few days, which is ideal if you need to iterate quickly.
A good user testing company will offer a variety of different usability testing methods, such as:
Moderated and unmoderated testing
First click testing
Supplementary qualitative and quantitative testing
The downside to this recruiting method is primarily the costs involved, which end up being pretty steep depending on how many participants you need to reach your goals. Recruiters typically charge a fee for every completed usability test.
There’s also the third party aspect to take into consideration. Your research team isn’t able to contact participants directly to dig deeper into any interesting responses or behaviors during testing — and users might only be involved in these types of research panels to get some extra income.
Recruiting participants for usability testing is fairly straightforward, but you also need to consider which type of testing will result in the most informed conclusions to help improve your product design.
Unmoderated and moderated usability testing, in person or remote testing, or a blend of all of these, each have their upsides and drawbacks, and will depend on the amount of time, resources, and budget your researchers have to work with.
We always recommend you begin your usability tests with a clear research framework laid out so you can get a clear picture of your end goals, stakeholder goals, and research process before you launch into recruiting participants.
If you’re looking to carry out UX research studies for your organization, Consent Kit can help you formalize your recruitment process, manage participant data with ease, and ensure your studies are accessible, compliant, and efficient. Try it free for 14 days.