Mar 6

How to Find the Right User Research Participants


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We often discuss how pivotal user insights are to the UX process. Heck, it’s called USER experience for a reason. You can’t conduct the UX process without their input.

To create a game-changing digital product, it needs to be two things: usable and viable. What do we mean by viable? We mean that it needs to “work” for the target audience while being intuitive and easy to use.

In short, UX designs can’t exist without users expressing interest in the product and validating its solutions. However, there’s no one-size-fits-all digital product that every computer, smartphone, or iPad user finds value in.

The best products on the market are tailored to their target demographics. But how do you figure out who’s in your target demographic? And when you do, how do you get the information you need out of them?

The success of your digital product begins and ends with the people you interview, the questions you ask, and the qualitative and quantitative research you gather from their feedback. We’ll show you how to find the right user research participants to make discovery a breeze!

How To Find the Right User Research Participants

  • Clearly define your research goals
  • Select criteria for participants
  • Decide how many participants you need
  • Develop a recruitment strategy
  • Offer incentives
  • Screen participants
  • Keep communication open

Start By Segmenting Your Research

Let’s begin by defining what qualitative and quantitative data are. Before you scoff at us and call us nerds, just know that you need these two to understand how to find the right user research participants.

Qualitative data: Non-numerical data that is descriptive and conceptual.

Quantitative data: Data that can be quantified and measured with a numerical value.

Qualitative vs Quantitative data example

So, while UX/UI design is primarily a creative field, it’s still a numbers game. But this numbers game helps you better understand and empathize with the people you’re creating for.

Gathering quantitative data requires a larger pool of participants to get the most accurate results. For this type of research, it’s best to gather plenty of subjects and create smaller sample groups within that population to produce more ample data.

On the other side of the coin, qualitative data doesn’t require as many participants. But the usefulness of the data relies on how much feedback the participant offers and how informed their opinions are.  

Qualitative data isn’t about gathering too much or too little information, it’s about getting just the right amount of information to make strategic decisions.

Recruiting Your Participants

Now that you know what kind of data you need to gather and how much of it, it’s time to start searching for answers. Recruiting the right participants can feel like finding a needle in a haystack — but when you know what to look for, it’s much easier to sift through the straws.

Clearly Define Your Research Goals

It’s not enough to know what you want to do with your digital product. To turn a profit, you need to know if it will succeed with your intended audience. You need to define the purpose of your research and let that statement inform the questions you’ll ask the participants. 

As we’ve discussed in our “What is Lean UX” blog, the UX process and the scientific method overlap quite a bit. User research is your chance to form a hypothesis, test out possible solutions, and gather information to guide your “experiment.” (Okay, now you can call us nerds).

You don’t have to stick to one hypothesis. The goal is to feel out your future audience and gauge their reaction to your theories. You’re going to ask them plenty of questions during the actual research process, so you can define multiple goals and see how the participants respond.

Select Criteria For Participants

It seems so much easier to cast a wide net when it comes to recruitment. But imagine you’re posting a job with no information about qualifications. You’ll get a lot of applicants, but very few of them will be the right fit for your company.

During your research phase, defining the criteria for your ideal participant is a must. Getting as detailed as possible will lead to more fruitful discussions around your product and user needs.

So, if you’re looking for college students aged 18-25, get granular so you can better tailor your product and features. Are they undergraduate students or in a graduate program? Do they live on-campus or off? Are they active on social media? Are they single, dating, or married? And so on.

User persona example
User Personas will give you a good idea of who to interview. Start by building personas and recruiting participants within the established demographic.

Decide How Many Participants You Need

Narrowing down your participant criteria means that it might take a little longer to find qualified subjects. It becomes more time-consuming when you’re looking for a large group of people to test with. 

But Rome wasn’t built in a day. Like all good things, user research takes time. It’s best to find as many willing participants as possible to gather more qualitative and quantitative data.

Plus, when you’re working with a large group of participants, you can divide them into smaller sample groups to test different hypotheses. This makes your research more focused, so when you’re building your product, you can build it piece by piece before incorporating everything into the whole project.

Develop a Recruitment Strategy

Once you understand who you need to research and how many, it’s time to figure out how you’re going to recruit them. Developing a recruitment strategy will guide your efforts and make it easier to find participants that match your criteria.

If you already have an established digital product and want to research your existing users for a new feature, your social media followers may already match your criteria. You can put a feeler on your pages to see if your followers are willing to answer your questions and offer opinions.

But if you’re building a product from scratch, this is a golden opportunity to network with your target demographic. You may need some extra help finding them with a recruitment agency or analytics software. You should also offer some kind of reward for their time. Speaking of…

Offer Incentives

When you’re asking someone to help with user research, you’re essentially asking them a favor. And when you ask someone a favor, there’s always a “What’s in it for me?” aspect. Offering incentives shows them you care about their opinion and respect their time.

Incentives can be monetary or not. Gift cards are always a good go-to, but think about how incentives could relate to your product. If the user has an account with your product, you can offer a free month of premium membership or 100 free credits (however your membership model works).

Screen Participants

The success of your research begins and ends with the quality of your feedback. You could find a participant that meets all your qualifications and agrees to give you their time. But if they’re hesitant to give their honest opinions, how does that help your research?

After you’ve gathered a group of participants, it’s time to separate the wheat from the chaff. You can give your participants a short survey to gauge their demographics and level of interest in the research process.

Now, just because they’re not as talkative doesn’t mean they’re useless. Opinionated users are great for qualitative data, but you can always have your soft-spoken users perform a few small tasks to gather quantitative data.

New product focus group
Online surveys and meetings are a very convenient way to screen participants. But if you're building a new product, an in-person focus group gives you valuable quality time with your future customers.

Keep Communication Open

No-shows will happen, that’s just a fact of life. Maybe your participant lost interest and didn’t want to show up, or maybe they forgot the date and time of your research session. Finding your participants is half the battle. You should be openly communicating with them during and outside of your meetings.

The key is to increase the visibility of your research session and availability to make your participants feel supported. Sending them a confirmation helps them save the date, but a reminder of your upcoming session never hurts.

It’s also completely okay (and even expected) to follow up after your session. Thank the person for their time and reassure them that their feedback is valuable. Keep this line of communication open if you need to ask them follow-up questions or re-recruit them for user testing.

Finding Your Research “Unicorns”

Building the perfect product requires time, strategy, and (of course) lots of research. Finding the right participants for user research seems like a daunting task at first glance, but when you know what to look for and how to find them, the process becomes much more manageable.

Remember, the quality of your final digital product rests on your user’s input. Everything you design needs to be tested and validated by your target audience. If Joe Schmoe isn’t who you’re designing for, his feedback isn’t going to be super helpful in creating/improving the user experience.

Take your time, define your goals, and ask the right questions to find the right participants. Who knows, they could become your most loyal future users!

User research is our bread and butter here at CreateApe. Whether you have an existing product or just an idea, we can help you identify your target audience and find solutions that help them get the job done. Start a project with us today!

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