Set up your test

Good preparation when it comes to setup will ensure your test runs smoothly without any hiccups. Before your participant arrives — whether in person or remotely — consider the following:

  • Comfort. Find a comfortable and convenient space to conduct the space so participants feel at ease. This may mean hosting them at your office, going to their houses, meeting in the middle, or syncing up remotely. And remember: Snacks make almost anyone feel more at ease!
  • Visibility. Ensure you have a clear view of your participant’s device. If they’re not sitting next to you, have them share their screen so you can see their behaviour as you listen to their commentary.
  • Tech. Are you set to record? Is the sound also recording? There’s nothing worse than conducting a test only to realize you forgot to record the session.


Facilitate like a pro

Being a good facilitator requires more than just reading off the script and taking detailed notes. Remember, you’re dealing with real people — the more at ease they feel the better your results.



Reassure the participant

Participants can be quite nervous or even self conscious before these tests. If they’ve never met you or done a user test before, it can be pretty intimidating! Do your best to make them feel comfortable. In the script example, we’ve included a few things you might say to help participants understand the process and feel at ease.

Our favorite way to reassure people is to tell them that we’re working together to make the app better, and that they can do no wrong! We also tell them they can’t hurt our feelings, which seems to empower them to say what’s really on their mind. Buckle up!



Practice active listening

Once you’ve broken the ice, gotten comfortable, and actually start asking questions, it’s time to focus on being a great listener. That doesn’t mean simply being silent — it means allowing the person to trail off and explore their thoughts without jumping in. Allowing users to think out loud like this can yield some of the best information.



Avoid leading questions

One of the most common mistakes we see is people asking leading questions. It’s important to remember you’re trying to get the user to give you their most raw take on what they are thinking and feeling. If you ask a leading question to get a desired response you’ve missed a valuable opportunity to see an unfiltered view of their experience.

Consider the following example of a leading question:
Is it clear that the button will lead to the checkout page?

Now compare it to this non-leading question:
What do you expect to happen when you click on that button?

Whereas in the first example, you’ll likely get a simple yes or no answer, the second example creates space for the participant to share their thoughts and insights.

In our experience, a great way to combat leading questions is to just ask “Why?”.

Using the same example above of a non-leading question, let’s say the participant answered, “I expected it to go to the FAQ page” — to which you would respond, “Why?”. Again, this gives the participant a chance to explain their rationale, and you an opportunity to learn from their experience.

The 5 Whys

Just like five participants gives you the best results, asking five whys may provide you with insight into the root cause of a problem. For more on this technique, check this out.



Let people go off script

It’s tempting to stay on script because you’ve spent so much time planning, but tests often go in unexpected directions. These tangents can often bring you unexpected and high-value discoveries that you would have never considered otherwise. The whole purpose of user testing is to capture someone else's perspective of how your product works. Allowing people to go off course gives you a larger and more detailed version of their experience.

For example, if a user starts going into their thoughts on navigation when you’re talking about adding a photo, let it happen. Worst case scenario you get some free insights into another piece of the app, best case you have a game-changing moment.



Be a mirror

Mirroring is another effective method of drawing deeper insights from your test participants — especially if you’re having trouble getting the participant to talk openly, or if they’re not providing enough detail.

To leverage mirroring in your tests, repeat the critical one to three words your test participant just said and then pause. It’s important to wait a good few seconds before moving on to the next prompt — even if it feels a bit awkward. This strategy does three key things:

  1. Helps your test participant feel more comfortable. Since people are naturally drawn to the familiar, mirroring participants’ language encourages bonding and rapport building.
  2. Provides an opening for the participant to elaborate on what they’ve just said. The reason pausing feels awkward is because it is — and most people will continue talking to avoid feeling the discomfort. The result may be an extra juicy insight you wouldn’t have gotten otherwise.


Take limited notes

Along with being a good listener, it’s important to be fully present to observe and ask questions and get a detailed view of what the person is doing. We suggest taking as few written notes as possible. Writing, listening, and watching all at once is not possible. Keep in mind, the session is being recorded, so don’t worry, everything will be there.

Usually our only notes consist of timestamps of critical moments so we can revisit them on the recording later.

If you really need notes, we suggest enlisting another person to be your note taker while you focus on facilitating.



Keep the session small

It’s important to invite as few people in the room as possible. If there are too many people, the user test starts to feel like an exam rather than a group effort to make the product better.

Most of our tests are done with no more than two facilitators in the room with one person delivering the test and the other acting as a note taker.

To avoid making the participant feel like they’re being tested, make sure you let them know the second person is only there to observe and take notes, and that you’ll be the only one asking questions. Also, consider explaining to the participant that it’s important both you and notetaker are able to see the participant’s screen, which is why you’re all sitting on the same side of the table. Again, this will help make the participant feel more comfortable.

Action Items

  • Secure a space to facilitate the test
  • Get snacks if facilitating in person
  • Double-check your tech is working and the session is set to record
  • Practice your session intro to help your participants feel at ease
  • Assign a facilitator and a note taker
Analyze and prioritize your results →