7 Ways to Find Users for Usability Testing

Jeff Sauro, PhD

You need users in order to do usability testing.

It can be a small scale do-it-yourself usability test or a large sample corporate usability test but finding available users can be a burden.

It’s often cited as one of the reasons usability testing isn’t done more often.

The process by which you find your users will vary depending on what you are testing, the types of users you need, and the stage of testing (early versus late).

But to help lessen the burden (and remove an excuse not to conduct usability testing) here are seven sources to help find users.

  1. Hallway Testing: Grab anyone who is unfamiliar with the application or website you’re testing. These can be co-workers, friends, family or folks at Starbucks. Hallway testing works well for general purpose websites or apps and when you’re looking to uncover the more obvious problems with the interactions (problems, of course, always seem obvious after you find them).Don’t rely too heavily on this method, especially when the design is more refined or users have specialized skills. When users don’t have an interest in a product or service they will be happy to give you an opinion on matters but relying on them may generate false positive and miss issues actual users will encounter.
  2. Existing Users: Your existing users are an obvious wellspring for testing. For new products, there are by definition no users, so this isn’t always something you can rely on. But, if your company makes similar products, then it makes sense to leverage customers that might know the domain. Finding existing users off your website is an easy place to start. You can use pop-ups (offered by MeasuringU and Ethnio) or fixed opt-in boxes to solicit volunteers. Marketing and sales departments usually have customer contact information you can tap.You can also try working with the customer support department and asking participants if they’d be interested in participating in follow-up studies. While existing customers sound like a panacea for finding users, we find not all volunteers have the time or availability to commit to an hour-long study, so you often have to rely on other sources.
  3. Usertesting.com: The popular website testing service Usertesting.com not only delivers audio and video of users using a website or mobile app, it also has a large panel of users. Usertesting.com allows you to recruit based on age, gender and geography. You can also ask participants to self-select by asking them only to participate if they’ve used a certain website, own a particular product, have health insurance, or have a 401k account, among other things. While it’s not a solution for when you need hundreds of responses or very specific recruiting criteria, getting a source of users and a 15-20 minute usability testing for under $40 is often very effective.
  4. Mechanical Turk: Amazon’s crowdsourcing network provides you access to participants from around the world who are willing to take short online studies for between pennies and dollars. Don’t rely on MTurk for high quality responses or finding specialized users. We’ve found the best luck with US-based participants for general purpose studies lasting between 10-20 minutes. Be on the lookout for participants who are trying to make a quick buck and have cheater and speeder questions implemented.
  5. Craigslist: When your recruiting requirements become more specific you can post ads on Craigslist. Marketing agencies have posted ads for focus groups for years in classifieds so you should have no problem finding willing participants (usability testing is, of course, not a focus group, so be prepared to set expectations). Craigslist works for in-person and remote usability testing. In addition to the cost of the posting, be prepared to spend between $50 and $200 depending on the commitment and type of user you need.Don’t count on Craigslist for finding participants with highly specialized skills or high-income individuals. You tend to get people who have time on their hands and are looking to make some extra cash. With the right posting and honorarium, you can usually find a great pool of participants for most usability tests.
  6. Panel Agencies: For unmoderated usability testing or surveys where you need hundreds to thousands of respondents, consider using a panel agency. Panels have huge databases of people from around the US and world. They keep track of all the usual demographic variables but allow you to find people like small business owners, IT managers, Costco shoppers or tablet owners.We’ve had great luck working extensively with Op4G (Opinions for Good). They help non-profits raise money by having their members participate in the studies. They keep a portion of the income and a portion gets donated. This model allows them to reach many people with specialized job skills and high-income individuals who normally wouldn’t be interested in taking an online survey for a few dollars. Other panel agencies we’ve had success working with include Toluna and Research Now. Plan on paying between $15 and $55 per completed response.
  7. Market Research Recruiters: Looking for hardware engineers, lawyers, medical professionals, Chief Financial Officers or people with $100k+ in two investment accounts? When you need to find very specific skills for in-person testing you’ll likely need the help of professional recruitment firms. Firms like Plaza Research also maintain huge local and international databases to match you with almost any recruitment need. Plan on paying between $150 to $300 per recruited participant plus an honorarium of between $100 and $250 per participant. This approach can get expensive, so be sure you put as much effort into the tasks and test as you do into the recruiting effort and don’t obsess over perfectly matching every demographic variable.
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