Tears, fibs and Louis Theroux…

Everything we’ve learnt from User Research at Play — Part 2

Last time we covered a lot of the logistical challenges that can come with running a user research session and how you can get your participants to the right place at the right time. (You can read it here)

This time lets take a look at tips for during your session…

Ground your questioning in previous behaviour

Time after time we’ve had participant’s tell us ‘no I don’t let apps use my location, absolutely not, it’s stalkerish’. In some cases this is absolutely true but after we’ve named a couple of apps that routinely use location — Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, we get ‘Oh yeah I use those, that’s ok…’. Sometimes asking an abstract question will prompt users to tell you what they think they would do, not what they actually do. So start your questions with ‘last time you used…’ and ‘have you ever…’ to validate some responses. And if this does happen, don’t call a participant out for contradicting themselves.

Follow Louis Theroux’s lead and embrace the silence

It might feel uncomfortable at first, but that’s exactly the point. If a participant is feeling a little awkward with silence, they’re going to talk more to fill it and that’s great. As a facilitator your aim isn’t to fill every bit of silence with a question, it’s to get a participant to open up.

Sometimes technology will fail you, but don’t panic

Again, expect this to happen. Wi-fi can drop out, your tv may insist on turning itself off in the middle of the session (this has happened and we couldn’t find the remote). But don’t panic, getting flustered isn’t going to help and participants are nice people. It might feel like 5 hours has passed but in reality it’s 5 seconds and they’ll be happy to sit and wait for you to sort out the hiccup. Stay calm and get yourself back on track.

Some participants will be louder than others

In group situations you’ll have a mix of personalities, and sometimes the louder ones can dominate the conversation. Recognise when this is happening and correct it with your body language by turning away slightly and actively asking other participants in the session what they think. Subtlety is the key though, no wild chair swinging necessary.

You will get agreeable participants

It’s only natural. Telling a complete stranger that their prototype needs improving can be a daunting prospect, it’s much easier to nod and tell them it’s great. If you sense this is happening, then work a little harder, ask why it’s great. Ask them to think out loud and talk through what they’re doing whilst interacting with your prototype. You need more than nods and yes’ so keep asking why.

You will get disagreeable participants

Occasionally you may get participants that just want to moan about your prototype and things outside of your control. If you sense this happening don’t struggle through, conclude the session as politely as possible and get in touch with your recruiter.

Look at what participants are doing, not just what they’re saying

A participant might be struggling with a feature in your prototype but at the same time tell you it’s great because they think it’s their fault they haven’t understood it. Body language and facial cues will tell you how they’re really doing so observe as well as question.

Humour is good

Forget the mad men style focus groups and the white scientist jackets, what you want to aim for is something a lot more informal. Humour is a great way to get your participants feeling relaxed and at ease so you can have a conversation. Ask about their lives, their jobs, and build up a rapport with your participant. Remember, this isn’t an interrogation.

Try not to make participants cry

Whilst all research sessions require absolute sensitively to the subject matter being discussed, some such as personal finance, bereavement or health require even more. If you sense your participant is becoming upset or distressed, appreciate you’re dealing with a person and stop the session. Make it clear there is no need to continue, make a brew, step out of the room for 5 minutes. Whatever you need to do to give them some space.

Google hangouts are great

You don’t need a big fancy lab to run a user research session. Get yourself set up in a meeting room or quiet corner and fire up a google hangout so others can observe your session from another room. It works really well and all you have to do is share a link. Just remember to position your computer to best capture the audio and screen of the device you’re using or choose the share your screen option and combine with my next tip…

Quicktime is also great

This is great for recording how a participant interacts with your prototype. Plug your iPhone or iPad into your mac, fire up quicktime and select ‘New screen recording’. This will capture the audio and video from your prototype and display your device screen on your computer (this is when you share your screen on google hangouts). Using quicktime means you can see exactly what a participant tapped etc, as well as what they said. It also provides you with a great asset to present to your client when discussing your findings.

Schedule breaks

At most we’ve ran 8 sessions in a day. This can be pretty intense and leave you wanting to sit in a dark silent room, so we wouldn’t recommend it. Schedule your sessions with at least half an hour in between to decompress and to account for participants being late.

And finally, enjoy it

We’ve met some great people running user research and have yet to conduct a session where we haven’t learnt something. Like I said before, you don’t need a big fancy lab to produce some valuable, useful insights so there’s no excuse not to do it.

Recently we’ve been conducting some research around finance and attitudes towards money and you can take a look at our findings in Raes post.

Fancy a chat about this blog then email us hello@aplaything.com or check out our website www.aplaything.com