Choosing your is one of the most important elements of user research and time and again researchers and designers fall into a bit of complacency when it comes to choosing the participants. It’s often talked about designing with accessibility at the start, or working on edge cases — but it’s challenging and everyone can succumb to the easy option now and then.

The problem with this is that you may miss some really important insights, or you may make false assumptions about your product. Users that have a sense of familiarity with digital products, simply won’t give you the same amount of value or insight into how something works. These users have their experiences with other apps to guide them and can work their way around problems; which might not always be apparent to you when observing.

If you want to get the maximum value from your research then you need to give a lot of thought into who you should research with. Look for users that have learning difficulties, accessibility needs, language differences. This is where you can really put your design to test.

Let’s say that you’re working on a new app for NIKE — it might make sense to do some quick pop up testing with young people in the street or a cafe and sure, you’d learn a few interesting things. But chances are, these people already have a good understanding of how apps like this work. So are you really testing the product, or just looking for validation it matches conventions?

What if, instead we..

What if we took the app to people who have never used a sports app on their phone? What if we looked for people that don’t use their phone for shopping? What if we worked with people who’re still on an outdated smart phone? Or what if we looked for people who don’t use a smart phone, or own one at all? It’d be harder to find them, but how much could that tell us about how intuitive our app is. How much could we learn about the way people understand our app and how we can make it easier and more effective.

The solutions to any of the problems you identify will likely benefit all of your users. Making something more usable shouldn’t be exclusive to a particular user group.

So what’s a good way of the right users?

Think about what the important characteristics of your ideal users are and use this to create a robust screener. Then work with the resources you have to get in touch with some people who may or may not use your product, here’s 3 tips to keep in mind.

  1. Focus on the behaviours of your users as opposed to demographics. Think about the specific behaviours that would help identify someone you could get a lot of value from. For example, if you’re working on Amazon’s Alexa, find people who’ve never voice technology before. Find users who have used a competitor’s like siri. Find people who’ve tried one of the products then stopped. And find people who use this technology all the time. Doing it this way will help to make sure you get a robust set of data and begin to understand the problems users face at the different levels of engagement.
  2. Find people who have a lot to say. It’s no use having the right person if they don’t like to talk much. So ask them a few opened ended questions. i.e Tell me about how Alexa fits into your life? — From this you will be able to identify if this person is going to have a lot to say and will be worth following up on. If they have a lot to tell you about, these are the people you want to spend your time with.
  3. Make it worth their while and do it on their terms. Be flexible. You’ve identified these really high value users, so do your best to make sure you can meet them. The last thing you want is to put all this effort in and they don’t show. So work with the user, agree a location that suits them or make sure the location your using is easily accessible. Offer them a good incentive and just be a good host. Treat people like you would like to be treated. It can be overstated enough how important this is.

If you start doing this, you’ll get better insights and your research will hold have far more value. In turn, it’ll make you a better researcher and a better designer.

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