Determine your participant criteria

Just like deciding what to test, it’s likely you already have a good idea of who your ideal users are — you may have even written personas!

It’s time to find actual people who match your 'ideal user' as close as possible. To build your criteria, list characteristics of your ideal user including (but definitely not limited to) age, proficiency, geographic location, etc.

Make Your Wish List

Struggling to define your ideal user? Take a peek at the Participant Screener section in the test outline template to use as a starting off point.



Find your user test participants

This always feels like the daunting part, but in reality, you only need to secure five participants for reliable insights.

Ideally, you want your user tests to happen in person, but it’s definitely easier to secure participants for remote tests. After all, who wants to put on pants when you can click a link and join from your couch? That said, remote tests put a lot more technical responsibility on the participant, which can be tricky if you’re dealing with someone who isn’t as tech literate. Not only that, remote testing means you can’t see little (yet sometimes important) things you might notice in person, like facial expressions.

If you’re recruiting remote participants, ensure they have a good internet connection, access to Zoom and are tech literate enough to follow instructions such as opening their browser, following URLs, logging into Zoom, sharing their screen, etc. Also, suggest they use headphones, which will help to ensure the audio is clear. Finally, if they're testing a mobile app, they will have to set up a camera and hold up their phone to record.

When recruiting participants, consider checking out the following spaces:

  • Personal networks: Friends, family members, and even people from your book club (really!) can be excellent participants, if they fit your pre-defined criteria.
  • Professional networks: Professional Facebook groups, Slack channels, and more can be goldmines for securing participants. After all, many of your peers may also be developing new products and features, and may need you to test something of theirs in the future.
  • Existing customers: If you already have a product and you’re looking to improve or expand it, your existing customers may jump at the chance for a sneak peek at what you’re working on.

Why five is the *perfect* number

You might think that more participants equals more valuable insights, but it’s simply not true, because, well, math. Check out this article for a more detailed explanation.



Try to avoid getting five of the exact same persona. We find we always get better results when the participants are diverse yet still fit within the overarching criteria. It also never hurts to get a “worst case scenario” participant — a person who just barely fits into your criteria, but still represents someone who will be using your app.

Money Talks

You may be asking yourself, ‘How do you get people to care about testing apps?’ Great question. We bribe them with Amazon gift certificates. We typically offer between $50 and $100 an hour — we find anything less than that is not worth it to many people.

If you’re trying to secure participants for in-person testing, consider offering more, and don’t be shy to tell them this when you reach out — it really helps speed the process up.



Keep in mind: If you’re testing with strangers, it’s important to screen them to make sure they aren’t saying they fit the criteria just for the money.

Finally, make sure you’re setting expectations with your participants, including:

  • How long the session will be
  • How many people will be in the room, and what their roles are
  • Whether or not they need to bring their own device
  • That the session will be recorded, and how you intend to use the recordings
  • Anything else you can think of to ease their nerves and make them feel as comfortable as possible


Schedule your tests

Now that you’ve secured five participants (and, hopefully, one backup) it’s time to schedule their tests.

If you want to cram all the tests into one day, go for it, but we highly recommend giving yourself at least 30 minutes in between each test. The reason for this is threefold:

  1. To give yourself time to catch your breath. User testing is exciting, but facilitating these sessions can also be exhausting. Give yourself enough time to run to the washroom, get yourself a glass of water and a snack, and do a few deep breaths.
  2. To ensure there’s buffer time in case a session runs long. There’s nothing worse than cutting a good test short, so build that possibility into your schedule.
  3. To make adjustments to the test between sessions. Maybe the dry run didn’t work out all the kinks, but not to worry — just as we iterate on designs, we also iterate on our tests.

Backups — not just for hard drives

It's always a good idea to recruit at least one backup participant in the event someone pulls a no-show or backs out.

Action Items

  • List your participant criteria
  • Get approval for incentives
  • Send outreach emails and messages
  • Schedule participants; send them an invitation with clear instructions: if they need to bring their own device, time and location, parking details, etc
Build your user test and script →