My favorite usability testing question

It’s pretty well-known that you shouldn’t directly ask a usability test participant whether they liked your product or not. As neutral as they may try to be, people tend to be more positive during a study than they would with a close friend. It’s the social pressure of not disappointing someone. So how do you gauge their overall impressions of the product? My favorite approach is to ask,

“Who do you know that would like this product? What are they like?”

Why? It draws really honest answers out of people because it’s a product question disguised as a casual question about the people they know. Here’s how it does that:

  • There’s no social pressure. The premise of the question is that the product is good (for some people) — which means that your participant doesn’t have to give negative feedback. It avoids the social pressure issue entirely. Hooray!
  • Strangers are surprisingly happy to talk about the people they know. Here’s a great example. When I was working at Imgur, I was running a usability test on our Android app with a middle-aged woman. She had two kids, two jobs, and doesn’t use social media too often. When I asked who of her friends would like Imgur, she immediately went ‘Ohhhhh boy. I have this friend…he’s always posting all sorts of weird things on Facebook’. Her tone and facial expression was clear — this person is not someone she associates with — and she has no intention of being associated with this app. It turns out, people are fine with sharing honest assessments of other people they know, especially when they don’t know you. But asking them to expressing dissatisfaction for your product in front of you? No way.
  • It highlights the people who would be high on the NPS scale. If you ask the question and your user says “I don’t know, I’d love to use the product myself!”, that’s a really good thing. The fact that they’re not thinking of their friends means they’re more excited to get their hands on the product after the study. These types of people will eventually share the product with their friends too.
  • It gets right to the personality differences between your product and the user. Every product has a personality. It’s a function of the design of the app, the voice used in the copy, the reliability of the app, etc. You’ll be able to understand how your participant perceives the product’s personality by asking them follow up questions about their recommended person. Are they describing this person as lovely? They probably think your product is lovely. Are they describing this person as someone erratic? Well, your product’s personality might be unpredictable.

Give the question a shot. Let me know how it works, and if you have any other personal favorite questions!

This post was written by the founder of Purple. We’re building planning boards for designers where you can keep all of your project work together in one place. Head over to www.purple.pm while we’re still in a free beta to try it out.