Plan your research

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The first and most important step is figuring out your research objectives with your team.

Perhaps your aim is to uncover current difficulties your users may have and identify opportunities for improvements? Or maybe you’d like to assess whether a current solution is meeting people’s needs?

Start by talking to your stakeholders to clarify the goals of your research and how findings will be used. If there are lots of objectives, prioritize them to ensure you’re focusing on the most important questions during your usability tests. Your stakeholders are people who have a vested interest in your project, for example, designers, product managers or clients.

Once you’ve narrowed down your research questions, it’s a good idea to give stakeholders the opportunity to provide feedback to ensure your research plan meets the needs of everyone involved.

Other things you need to do are:

  • Deciding who will be involved and what their roles are during the sessions
  • Discussing what you’ll have in your script
  • Deciding where sessions will take place and what equipment you’ll need
  • Discussing the kinds of participants you require.

Identify key tasks and scenarios

Usability testing is a task-based activity. This means you need to figure out the flow of actions you want your participants to complete during your session. Tasks should be representative of typical goals your end-users would perform, such as purchasing a mobile phone on a website.

Scenarios help to guide the context in which the tasks take part. For example, finding the best mobile phone and mobile plan. Good scenarios are realistic and relatable. Make sure you’re not leading your participants by being too detailed and prescriptive.

Work with your team to identify the key tasks and scenarios you want to cover during your test. Be realistic around how much you can fit within a session and do a run through to make sure that your timing is right before booking in your research participants.

Write your script

A script (or guide) is an outline of all the essential information to cover during your session.

It should include the key questions, scenarios and tasks you want your participant to complete, as well as any additional information you want to communicate to your participant, such as:

  • Introductions (including any observers present)
  • A general overview of the session and the purpose of the research
  • Privacy and consent information
  • Recording permissions (if applicable, including information on how these will be used and stored)
  • Instructions to encourage participants to think aloud and verbalize their thoughts and feelings throughout the session
  • A friendly reminder that you’re testing the product or service, not the participant
  • Any additional information, such as guidance on what to do when the participant gets stuck or has a question.

As a researcher, it’s your job to set clear expectations and make sure the participant feels comfortable. Ensure you cover off all essential information in your script, even if you do usability testing often.

Here’s a great example of a script from renowned usability testing expert Steve Krug.

Coordinate your first session

Before your first session, you’ll want to consider the finer details to help you get your usability tests right:

  • Where will your sessions take place?
  • Who will be involved in the sessions? What do they need to know?
  • What technology do you need?
  • What will your incentives be? How will you pay/supply these?
  • How will you capture consent for using data and recordings from your sessions?
  • Does your research require an NDA?

Work with your team to find the answers to these questions before you conduct your first session to keep your study running smoothly.