Finding participants for usability testing isn’t as hard as you think

Summary
In case you are not using the services of a professional recruitment agency, or do not have an internal recruitment team that can help you acquire participants for usability tests, here are some effective tips I have gathered over the last few years of extensive usability testing to help you begin with finding those participants quickly.


An important consideration among others for effective usability testing is acquiring participants who are representative of your product’s target audience (users who will use your product) to test with.

In case you don’t have a team or resource in your organization that looks after participant recruitment and coordination of usability testing activities, or you don’t have access or simply don’t want to spend on a professional recruitment agency to do the task for you, the following tips will help you to effectively find participants for usability testing on your own without having to work into a cold sweat wondering where are all those people and how can you get them to participate.

Tips to help you find Participants for Usability Testing

A. Let people find participants for you
Instead of looking for the participants on your own, let people know that you need them and what the criteria for selection is. Once you get contact details for potential participants from these people, you can then screen them to ensure that they fit the bill and also try and determine whether they’d participate fairly or simply try to complete the session in the easiest and fastest manner possible so they can walk away with the compensation. But where are these people who can help you out? They are all around. You can:

  1. Use the company mailing/ distribution list
    What better way than using your organization’s distribution list to let a large number of people know that you are looking for participants for a usability test, all in one go. The bigger your company, the better. Try and send it out to the largest distribution list that exists in your office for the particular location you are situated at (assuming you’re not planning on conducting remote usability tests, in which case the ‘global’ list might be a better option). Take permission if required before shooting off the mail to a large group. If you decide to do so, make sure your mail is usable itself. Avoid jargon and explain everything you need in the participant clearly and in the simplest language possible.
  2. Use the company’s website/ Product websites/ Send out mailers
    Let your product users know that you are looking for participants. Add the information to company mailers or have a separate mailer just for this purpose. Put up the information on your organization’s website or your organization’s product websites if so may be the case (this you should do as part of your strategy for creating a usability test participant database anyhow).
  3. Try and get the HR department to help you out
    If you feel that the participant criteria would match that of the job seekers applying to your organization, talk with human resources and let them know the profile of people you’re looking for. After HR completes their interview process, they could let the interview candidates know about the opportunity to participate in the usability test in exchange for gratuity.
  4. Take help from your friends and family
    Spread the word among your friends and family. This might not be so useful for recruiting the usual participants but is rather helpful in cases where gratuity can’t be the motivation, as is discussed in the last tip.

B. Find participants on your own

Finding participants does not have to be mind boggling. Here are some very effective ways to help you get on your way.

  1. Use the internet
    The internet is your answer to look for anything you need to find if you can search smart, looking for usability test participants included. You will almost definitely find the right users on the net. Look in forums, websites like Yahoo! Answers, classifieds websites… the list goes on, but hopefully you get the idea (In case you don’t, let me know and I’ll be glad to elaborate depending upon the type of users you are looking to recruit.)
  2. Look around (not in) the office 
    You might have a lot of people around your office building that might fit your participant profile. Be it the guys from Green Peace, credit card and banking related services salesman or students passing by. There is probably someone who will fit your participant profile. Try talking with them to participate in your usability test.

C. When gratuity just won’t do (or you need to recruit users in executive leadership)
There are cases where gratuity can not be motivation enough for the participants you need to recruit.Take the case of executive leadership and senior management. Besides having no time to spare, gratuity isn’t what they’re looking for, or what you can probably match with their expectations. What will be motivate them is the request for participation by someone they know personally who matters- that might be your boss, your parents, your friends or even you. It pays to know the right people and be in their list of loved ones in this case.

This article was first published on ConeTrees and then Usability News of the British Computer Society’s Interaction Specialist Group.


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