Sourcing testers is one of the main challenges faced by UX practitioners conducting research. As it is one of the first steps of the research itself, it stops a lot of research processes in their early stages. When the source of testers is not trusted, it also reduces the relevance, credibility and ROI of the study as well as trust in the research process as a whole at your organization.
Finding testers for your UX research is part of the research ops tasks list. Some companies have team member.s dedicated to Research Operations, but for most UXR practitioners, as a UX designer or researcher, this responsibility falls into their hands. This is why many companies mostly conduct research with their own users: their UX researchers simply don’t have access to any other tools.
Increasing a company’s maturity in UX comes with finding a reliable source of qualified participants. In this article, we explain how to organize your UX research recruitment plan in 5 steps.
Choose your research question
A pre-requisite to start looking for your testers is to choose your research question. This will drive the rest of your study, give its direction.
Your research question derives from the business objective it is trying to fulfill and from the user problem it is trying to solve.
Your question can be about the user, their problem, their action, the product or the solution.
Defining your UX research participant’s target
If you want to find the right testers, you need to know what “right” means for you. You also need to know how many of them you need. This will later help you assess the success of your testers’ recruitment actions.
One study, one target
You might have a persona that works great for your company and are planning on using it for your research. However, each study should have its specific recruitment target depending on your research question. You might need:
- to meet your own users, prospects, churned users or on the contrary, your competitors’ users or simply non-customers
- users with specific attributes like feature subscription, acquisition source, payment plan option, acquisition recency etc
To be insightful, a study must focus on one specific target with a restricted set of criteria. If you have a variety of targets, this could mean that your research is not focused enough and that you should divide it into several subsidiary research.
For example, if you are conducting exploratory research for a child care app and need to interview different types of care providers (doctors, nurses, babysitter), you should have a study for each of them. That is because they have different problems and you need to develop a specific interview for each of them. Their answers cannot be compared among them.
Often, when we select demographic criteria, we use them as proxies for behavioral.
Behavioral criteria should be your focus to select participants. People’s behavior are meaningful to your research, they will drive how they engage with your product.
Here are a few cases where demographic criteria can be better replaced by behavioral:
- For example, if you are studying women who would like to have a child, you might decide you will target women from 25 to 35 years old because the average age at childbearing in your target area is 30.6 years old. However, what you really want to know is not their age but their answer to the question “Do you want to have a child?” This can be better addressed through a screening form than by strict demographic criteria. You can still use the age criteria as a targeting option but not as a screener and selection criteria.
- If you are studying virtual reality technology users, you might start by targeting your screener at people below 40 years old because you estimate they have higher interest in this technologies. Depending on your source of participants, you can instead choose to target by interest (technology in this case) and then screening for the actual use of VR tech in the timeframe of your choice.
Here are a few examples of behavioral criteria by category:
- Purchase: frequency, amount, quantity (over a certain period of time)
- Ownership: product (FMCG, vehicle, specific brand), home, pet
- Habits: practicing X or Y activity, frequency, with whom, where
- Travel and transportation: destination, means of transportation, budget, frequency
Psychographic criteria are related to someone’s interests, values and attitudes. They are usually not quantifiable or related to a concrete behavior and are thus harder to assess. They belong to the realm of perception. They can include affinity or preference with a specifc brand, attitude toward climate change or work/personal life balance.
You can assess these criteria with questions like the following:
- Among these brands, which one.s are you a fan of?/What do you think of this brand?
- How do you feel about climate change?/How does climate change affect you when making a purchase?
- How do you prioritize your work and personal life?
As often as possible, transform psychographic criteria intro behavioral. For example, if your psychographic criteria is “is interested in politics”, you could ask them “What type of news do you consume and how often?”.
Demographic criteria are useful to target your participants, but except in many cases, they should not be your main driver of selection, behavioral should.
Here is a list of demographic criteria by category:
- Who they are: age, gender
- Their life: localisation, family status, professional situation
- Their skills: education level, languages spoken
- Their work: occupation, hierarchic category, wage, occupational category, company size, company industry, company type
Here are a few cases where demographic criteria are useful/necessary:
- Legal reasons: targeting a specific age range depending on legal reasons (excluding minors, addressing legal instruments with strict age or revenue ranges)
- Strict exclusions: working on a pregnancy related app, you will exclude men from your targeting
We advize you to start your targeting process with behavioral and psychographic criteria before you start using demohraphic. This way, you will create a more comprehensive overview of your research persona.
Here is a persona example for a UK-based company working on a food supplement to help pre-menopausal women go through the transition more smoothly.
Choose a source of testers
Here is a list of sources of testers:
- CRM/customer database/in-app
- Social media organic audience
- Colleagues and relatives
- Paid social media
- Forums and social media groups
- Recruitment agencies
- UX research recruitment tools
Creating reliable and diversified sources of testers is one of the best steps to increase the relevance of the insights of your UX research.
When choosing a source of testers you should have the following in mind:
- Your target: do you need to test with existing users, prospects, competitors’ users, a completely new target? This will define where to look for your testers.
- What is their location: This will drive your choice of a study’s format (in-person, videocall, phonecall).
- How can you reach them: On which platform do they spend time, what content do they consume?
- Your incentive: Your incentive’s format and amount will depend on how hard you estimate you can reach your testers. Usually, B2B profiles are harder to reach and thus more expensive than B2C ones.
To learn more about which source is best suited to your objectives, read our article on the subject .
Screen and select participants
No matter the precision of your source of testers, you need to create a screener to ensure you will meet testers who match your study’s criteria.
This reduces time spent with testers who are not relevant to your study and who’s insights decrease the ROI of your research. Demographic criteria are usually easily targeted through the various existing testers’ sources while behavioral criteria will be addressed in your screener. This is where you will gather info relevant to your study such as ownership, habits, spendings, preferences etc.
When writing a screener, you should try to create as less bias as possible in the formulation of the questions. This is to avoid leading respondents to target their answers to boost their selection or create other types of bias such as social desirability.
You will then use the results of your screener to create a final selection of participants who will be invited to the study. Take into account the share of the invited testers who will not book a timeslot or who will no show. This will allow you to come as close as possible to your target numbers of testers.
Explore our guide to screener writing for more info on the subject.
The logistics of gathering insights
The logistics of UX research is probably what makes it so difficult to conduct. We have built the following section as a checklist for your UX research.
Availability and scheduling
Once you have found testers matching your criteria comes the time to organize the actual meeting with them. This starts with managing availability. To do this, you will have to overlap the researcher’s availability with participants availability. They have to be gathered on both side and then overlaped in one place.
In most cases, you will have to do this manually. Otherwise and if you are looking for free options, you can use tools like Calendly, Doodle or Setmore.
Here are some best pratices for gathering availability:
- Make sure to take slack time between participants tests/interviews. This includes time for thanking and saying farewell your participants, to gather and add notes, taking a break and resetting yourself before the next participant. This slack time should be of at least 20 minutes for online meetings and 30 minutes for in-person meetings. This is especially important for two reasons: One you will probably need a few minutes after the interview to gather your thoughts and put them on paper before you forget about them. Second, if you run late, it makes you start on the wrong foot with the next participant.
- Make sure participants understand the logistical requirements of the meeting: their full availability for the duration of the meeting, their timeliness, device requirements (especially for remote interviews and tests), the quality of the internet connection for remote settings
Checklist before the meeting
Once you have your participants booked and scheduled, there are several elements you need to prepare to make the experience smooth for participants and to make sure you optimize the time you have with them. The less technical issues you have during the interview/test, the more time you have to gather insight and increase the ROI of your research.
To create a checklist for your meeting, use a timeline of everything that will happen in every detail from the arrival to the departure of the participant. It includes physical movements, prompts, dialogues and technical setups.
For better clarity, you can draw this timeline visually.
Instructions and links
For remote meetings, prepare a list of the links that your participant might need. Send them during the meeting through a channel they can access while talking to you.
Have your instructions written before hand so that you can rely on them and avoid loosing time during the meeting.
Test your material
Testing your test/interview material (this includes the interview guide, test protocol, prototype and questionnaire) beforehand is necessary to make the experience as smooth as possible and avoid confusion and bias.
You can test your content in several stages:
- First, go through it in real time by asking your questions out loud, imagining what a participant would answer and timing yourself. Make adjustments if needed (for clarity and length).
- Then, you can send the material to your colleagues for them to review it.
- If needed, you can conduct an interview/test with a colleague. If you do, make sure to make it as real as possible to maximize your learnings. This is an opportunity to make improvements on the content, train for speech clarity and decreased bias.
- If you are conducting a very ambitious study with a large number of participants, you can decide to separate the first meetings from the bulk of your study. It can mean allowing yourself to adjust the structure of your study or material after the first meetings. This way, you can consider the first 10% of your meetings as a soft launch. You can plan a few days between these first 10% and the rest to manage your potential adjustments.
If you need a NDA signature, decide if you want to have it signed digitally before the meeting or physically at the beginning of the meeting.
If you choose a digital signature, there are online tools you can use for this purpose like IlovePDF Signature (subscription based with limited number of signatures), Docusign or Signnow (subscription based with unlimited number of signatures).
If you choose to sign the NDA at the beginning of the meeting, include a few minutes for it in your schedule and have it printed in advance.
After the interview
A good practice is to take time to thank your participants after the meeting, most probably by email. This is on top of any incentive that was decided beforehand.
You can also include some follow-up on what the result of your research was. This is especially important if your participant is also a customer/product user. You don’t need to be very specific if you don’t want to dilvuge sensitive information.
Evaluate the result of your recruitment and iterate
In order to improve the performance of your recruitment over time, you need to track its evolution from study to study. You will then use these insights to implement and test best practices.
Did you reach your target? If not, what can you adjust?
When studying the overall performance of your recruitment, you have to study both quantity and quality:
- Were you able to recruit the number of testers you defined at the beginning of your study?
- Were you satisfied with the precision of their targeting?
For more granularity, you can study different levels of your process:
- performance of the testers’ source: did it provide enough quantity and was it able to target with precision
- accuracy of your targeting criteria: were your criteria relevant to your study’s needs? Do they need adjustment?
- performance of your screener: did your screener enable to make a clear decision about who to meet and not? You can also study quantitative metrics such as completion rate (overall and for each question)
- no-shows and fraudulent behaviors: were the testers you recruited reliable and were the information they provided during the selection process accurate?
Identifying the main sources of struggle in the previous step will allow to prioritize your efforts to improve the quality and/or the quantity of your testers.
Using these 6 steps will give you structure and direction to organize the sourcing of your research participants. Fine tuning this process and adapting it to your organization is what will really create value for your research. The next challenge will be to scale your recruitment practice with the growth of your UX research.