Finding Test Participants


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An often underrated or little considered component of user testing is the selection and recruitment of participants for your tests.

Testing with people who are actually your target market is critical to elicit meaningful insights. Conversely, sourcing random participants or simply shooting the test to coworkers around the office can easily lead design down the wrong path. As they say, garbage in – garbage out.

So, how should you go about finding the right participants?

Develop a customer profile

A great place to start is to get clear on your target audience by developing a customer profile. Your product may appeal to a broad group of people, however, catering to everyone in the design process is akin to adopting a scattergun approach and will not lead to focussed results.

What defines your key customer groups? Start by developing an in-depth description of who your typical customer or potential customers are. The description may include demographic and psychographic information such as the following:
Demographic information

  • Age
  • Location
  • Gender
  • Income level
  • Education level
  • Marital or family status
  • Occupation
  • Ethnic background

Psychographic information

  • Personality
  • Attitudes
  • Values
  • Interests/hobbies
  • Lifestyles
  • Behavior

When considering these attributes, think about ‘how and when your target customer might use the product?’ and ‘what features are most appealing to them?’

In the case of EverWear, we are targeting Millennials (age 18-35), who are passionate about the environment, engage in regular outdoor activities and have purchased clothing online previously.

As mentioned previously we recommend running focussed tests and testing often, rather than running large catch all projects. Narrowing the focus of your testing, will also help to define your participant selection.

Where to source

So we’ve looked at the ‘who’, and now we get to the ‘where’ of participant recruitment. There’s a variety of options to consider when choosing where to source participants. The most common sources include:

  • Customer lists (email, SMS)
  • Social Media
  • Directly from your website (pop-up)
  • Recruitment Panels

Your choice of method will likely be influenced by factors such as:

How to identify your testing priorities

  • Project budget: Access to funds will determine what recruitment methods are available to you and whether you are able to offer participants an incentive for their involvement.
  • Access to existing users: Are you able to invite your current users to participate in testing? Are you looking to engage with potential future users or users of competitive products and services? What sample size do you require?
  • Niche audience targeting: When looking to target specific demographic or psychographic attributes, options may be limited and the potential expense of soliciting feedback greater.

Sourcing participants directly from your own website, customer lists or social media may provide a targeted and cost effective means of recruitment. Alternatively, if you are targeting potential customers or those from your competition, sourcing participants from an internet panel could provide timely access to this audience group.

Use of screeners

Regardless of which recruitment method used, a ‘screener’ is often an effective way to ensure you are engaging the right target audience. A screener is a set of questions at the beginning of a survey which determines whether the respondent matches your testing criteria.

In the case of EverWear, we have identified our target audience as Millennials (Age 18-34), who are passionate about the environment and have purchase clothing online in the last 6 months.

With tools such as Ethnio, we can set up a screener targeting visitors to EverWear’s website, recruiting their participation in the testing of a newly created prototype.

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