Things to keep in mind in my next user study


This week I carried out my own very first user study.

Before my mentor left for her vacation, she asked me what I was most nervous about. I wanted to say everything, but it was the on-site session that terrified me the most. Even with a lot of preparation, something can still go wrong. What if the prototype totally breaks down? Or if a user hates the design? What if I fail dig deeper at a proper moment and miss the most valuable data? Or if…

As I explained my fears, my mentor was quite amused and said things are the opposite for her. She believes that the key is to find the right participants who are the real target users, and to develop a tight research plan with the right set of questions. After that, she said, everything would flow smoothly.

After wrapping up all the sessions, I came to understand why we worry about different aspects. With each session, I learn a bit more about how to take better control. This reminds me that I should write something down to remind myself in my future user studies.


Be completely familiar with the guide.

It’s important to fully digest the structure and intentions especially when you do not write the guide yourself. Use highlights to support visual search in the session.

Make the participant comfortable.

In the session they will feel foolish because they might not complete the task after quite a lot attempts, and might also break the prototype. Let them feel, from the very beginning, that they are the expert in their own field. Try your best to act (naturally) that you don’t fully understand how the app works either.

Convey the fact that you are not the designer, and it’s okay to speak frankly. If necessary, explain that your role is to gather information and present the findings to the product designers.

It is a common practice to start the interview with some unrelated questions (what do you live? what do you like to do for fun?) But it is more efficient and effective to start these small talks while walking the participant to the room.

Ask questions when…

You don’t fully understand what he/she means. This rule-of-thumb is really useful to me when I gets tired and less curious about my users.

-“I think they make it in a more authentic way.”
- “What do you mean by authentic? What makes you feel that way?”

They ask you a question, or express uncertainty.

-“Can I do xxx like this on this app?”
-“Is this what you would usually do?”
-“I think it could be xxx, or it could also mean xxx.”
-“What would be more useful to you?”

Know what to expect.

Get people around you for pilot testings. Compared to your participants, friends and colleagues (outside the team) will be more honest with you about what they feel about the design and the way you ask certain questions. It helps you understand what difficulties people might have, what they like and dislike about the design. It helps you recognize some trends even before the first session.

Be a real outsider.

Yes, despite what I tell them, I am actually ON the design team, AND I am the one who build the prototype. It breaks my heart when hey complain about the usability or question the market prospect of this new product. But keep in mind you are a researcher, and your goal is not to make the perfect prototype or get people like your design.


My mentor’s words make perfect sense now. While it’s easy to summarize the dos and don’ts of in-session practice, it is impossible to learn writing a research guide or finding the best participants in a short time. I was fortunate enough to get tons of support on the most difficult parts, as well as great emotional supports from my teammates.

I choose to keep a record of my experience on Medium because this is where I spend the most time reading about UX. Honestly, I feel very much uncomfortable about speaking as if I am already the expert of the field. I am only here to learn, so if anyone disagrees with a point I have made, I will be open for a chat :)

Here’s to a better next time 🍻🎉

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