How to recruit users for UX testing (plus FREE recruitment template)

User Recruitment

Step 1: Identify who your users are

The first thing you need to do before even thinking about how to recruit is to identify who your users are. You need to know this so that you can pull together the criteria for the types of people you need to include in your interviews. 

Sources to use:

  • Company personas, either from marketing or your UX team
  • Analytics data
  • Customer survey responses
  • Previous quantitative and qualitative research findings
  • Stakeholder knowledge (but ensure they can produce evidence rather than this being just their opinion of who your users are!)

What if I’m using the research to find out who my users are?

For many people, research forms part of the process of creating and validating customer personas. In this case, it’s ok not to have fully formed fancy personas, but you’ll still need at least some idea of who your customers might be so that you don’t waste time speaking with entirely wrong people. 

Step 2: Document your user criteria

Once you’ve done your fact gathering, you’ll need to pull together your user criteria so that it’s easy for you, your team and your recruiter to understand who you’ll need to take part in your research. Don’t worry about this needing to be an all singing, all dancing pdf document. The main purpose of this document is simply to communicate your user criteria. So, this could just be a very basic one page Word document with bullet points listing out the key demographics and behaviours of your user type(s). For other people, this might be a 10 page visual persona document.
Choose whatever works for you!

Step 3: Find users to take part

So, now that you’ve identified the types of people who you need to include in your research, the next step is to find them. There are a few ways you can do this and we’ll start with the least recommended first.

Using internal employees (least recommended)

Using colleagues and internal employees should be your least used method of recruiting users to take part in your research because it comes with a whole heap of bias! But that’s not to say that it doesn’t have it good points and uses. 

Pros

  • It’s free!
  • It’s quick. In a few hours you can have your feedback.
  • It’s useful when you have a very small thing to test and you just want quick feedback on whether people understand design A or design B better.
  • It can be a useful tool for driving company awareness of what UX testing is, future engagement and buy-in. But be careful that you then don’t get stuck in a cycle of internal testing because stakeholders then don’t understand why you can’t just stick with internal employees.

Cons

  • Bias. This is the big problem with this method. These people work at your company, they’re familiar with the brand, values, they’ve probably used the website/app before, they’re more likely to be similar kinds of people because the company have employed them to fit in with the company culture, etc. Sometimes employees can be more positive in their feedback because they don’t want to say anything negative about their employer or they simply really like the company and that’s why they work there, but sometimes they can be more negative, for example if there is a general negative office culture or if the company has recently announced some bad news. Depending on the company size, they may also be on familiar terms with the researcher and this can influence their responses.
  • Employees may be less engaged in the process. We’ve heard of companies forcing employees to take part in research or giving them career incentives, whereas participation in research should be because the person is genuinely interested in taking part and is therefore more highly engaged in the process.
  • Even if they are actual customers, they’re not truly representative. Let’s imagine you work at a fashion company like Topshop. Many of your employees may well be customers, and you use this fact to justify using them in your research. However, your preference should still be to recruit people external to the company to eliminate bias.

How to recruit

  • Stand up, walk to people’s desks and ask them.
  • Put up posters around coffee areas.
  • Send out an email.
  • Setup a stand in a highly frequented area. You could even do your testing at this stand too and make a day of it. 

Recruiting yourself

Recruiting UX participants yourself

When you work within a company, someone will undoubtedly have a list of customers/contacts that you could use to access potential participants for your studies. 

Pros

  • Costs less.
  • You can recruit customers from existing contact lists or online popups.
  • You have full control over the recruitment and quality of participants.

Cons

  • You’ll likely be limited to current customers and lack contact details for non-customers.
  • You’re likely to face red tape within your company and will have to check with legal who you can contact, what for and how you’ll need to do this. It’s likely that your approach and email will need to be agreed by several departments which can cause delays and frustration. You may need to compromise on your requirements simply to get sign off.
  • Takes up more of your time
  • Recruitment can be a very fiddly process. Users may need to call you at inconvenient times or may want to cancel/rearrange their appointment. You’ll need to have availability to deal with them.
  • You’ll need someone to be available during your research to deal with last minute dropouts and replacements, help users with directions if they get lost, questions about car parks and buses, and all the other weird and wonderful things that crop up during recruitment.
  • Bias. There is a bias if you work for your company. There is a bias if you’re the researcher. When people are recruited by an independent party, they may feel more free to be honest in their opinions.
  • There is a bias in only recruiting customers. Customers who say they want to take part in your research may be more likely to be the more engaged positive customers rather than being representative of the average customer. 

Recruiting externally

Fina a user recruitment agency

Ideally, you will recruit people who are external to your company. They will be an actual customer or they will represent your target customer as closely as possible so that your research results more accurately reflect your audience with greater reliability and therefore the impact of the results will be greater. Good recruitment is money well spent.

Using a recruitment panel (most recommended)

An external user recruitment agency with their own panel can be used to recruit both your customers and your representative customers. Using an agency takes advantage of their vast network and frees you up to concentrate on your research. 

Pros

  • Takes the recruitment off your hands and frees you up to concentrate on your research.
  • Access an existing panel of users who have already shown an interest in taking part in research.
  • Useful for recruiting both general and niche users who are harder to find.
  • Gives you easy access to people who aren’t existing customers.
  • Gives you easy access to your competitor’s customers for competitor research.

Cons

  • Costs more.
  • Depending on the company, it can take up to 4 weeks to recruit. But some companies offer much quicker recruitment (iNeedUsers.com).
  • You are relying on a third and most likely a fourth party to accurately screen and ensure attendance of your users (Did you know that most agencies don’t recruit directly themselves? They use a network of freelancers around the country so they themselves have no involvement in the quality or consistency of your recruitment). When people aren’t accurately screened, you may receive users who don’t accurately fit your criteria, who are late or unprepared, who aren’t chatty, who struggle to verbalise their thoughts and opinions, and who are more likely to not attend and to not let you know. Experiences like this end up costing you more in wasted time and can be embarrassing for you when you have stakeholders observing.

We recommend: iNeedUsers.com

iNeedUsers UX user research participant recruitment specialists
  • 100% user attendance for most projects.
  • Free replacement of cancellations and no-shows.
  • Rigorous screening process ensures high quality and good fit participants.
  • Standard 2 week turnaround with options for faster recruitment.
  • Direct recruitment through own panel.
  • Qualitative and quantitative.
  • Trusted by the world’s top brands.

Download your FREE recruitment template

Together with iNeedUsers, we’ve put together a FREE recruitment template to help you create your requirements when you’re recruiting participants.

You might also like:

How to do UX research in a COVID-19 world (plus FREE handbook)

Top 10 major risks of poor user recruitment

Top 10 reasons why good user recruitment is crucial to the success of your UX research

How to do UX research in a COVID-19 world (plus FREE handbook)

UX Research in the new normal

As the world begins to come to terms with living alongside COVID-19 for at least the coming future, we take a look at how UX research will need to adapt to continue to get good results whilst keeping everyone safe.

Remote will be the new default

When lockdown began, we hope you were able to continue testing. If you did continue, you no doubt chose to go down the remote testing route as it was by far the safest method for both you and your participants. We expect that remote will continue to be the preferred method whilst the virus is around but that remote moderated will grow in popularity.

In-person research has returned but may not be face-to-face

For many research projects, remote testing won’t answer the key research questions, or it simply won’t be possible due to technical constraints. For example, one of our clients has highly confidential and sensitive gaming hardware that is tricky to setup because it’s still at the prototyping stage, so remote would not be suitable for their needs. 

Now that people are able to return to work and to indoor environments, we have resumed in-person research here at Keep It Usable, in our Home UX Lab. However, it will look a little different and as you also resume your in-person research, there are several changes you’ll need to make and things you’ll need to consider across the whole research process.

We have resumed in-person research here at Keep It Usable

Ensuring and communicating safety

Ensuring a safe return to in-person testing is our priority at Keep It Usable. The health and safety of our clients, researchers, observers, participants, staff and anyone else within our facility is of the utmost importance. It is key not just to provide this safety, but also to communicate it well so that people feel reassured and are are less likely to worry about the environment they will be in.

White Tower Reception
Reception in our building

Participant recruitment and screening

As you may be aware, the specialist user recruitment agency, I Need Users is part of our group of companies. We have been providing recruitment for many years and are very proud of our superb attendance rate (for most projects it’s 100%). But with COVID-19 we’ve had to make a few changes for in-person research: 

  • Our updated screening process now includes additional questions relating to experiencing symptoms of COVID-19, testing positive, contact with others and possible exposure to others who may test positive, and recent travel.
  • As there can be a period of time between being screened and the date of the research, all participants will be re-screened the day before your testing to ensure no new symptoms and changes have occurred.
  • When they arrive at the facility, they will be asked to confirm again.
  • We will also take extra time in the screening process to alleviate any concerns that participants may have about attending the research facility in-person. This will involve explaining the process, environment and setup so they feel safe to attend.

Face masks and social distancing

The official guidance on face masks and social distancing will apply within our facility. As these are changing on a weekly basis at the moment, these will continue to adapt in line with government guidelines. All participants and visitors must wear a mask when arriving and use the hand sanitiser when they enter the building. 

Hand sanitiser is available on arrival
Hand sanitiser on arrival

Research lab changes

We are not currently recommending researchers sit alongside participants because it would go against the current government guidelines and the PPE required may be uncomfortable for the user (and you). It will also effect the audio quality for your observers and your recording.

Instead, we have several alternatives available, where you and the participant can be in different rooms but still be close by in case you need to pop into Home Lab to sort out any technical issues (wearing PPE of course).

Home UX Lab

New individual self-contained booths

An extra option that we now offer is the use of our individual self-contained work booths. These extra special booths contain a chair, desk, internet connection and lighting. They are perfect for individual tests! You may prefer for your participant to be sat in the booth or you might prefer them to be in our homely lab whilst you use the booth. Alternatively, your participant could be in our homely lab whilst you use the large observation room next door. We have many options that are all entirely flexible and we can help to advise on which setup will be best suited to your research needs.

UX Research Booths

Process changes

In light of the new guidelines, our day-to-day processes have changed, including:

  • Participants to be kept separate whilst waiting for research.
  • Seating in the waiting area to be thoroughly cleaned after each use.
  • Schedule extra time between participants to enable cleaning.
  • Sanitisation of room and equipment between each participant.
  • Hands sanitised before handling anything. 
  • Masks to be worn when interacting with visitors.
  • Social distancing to be maintained.
  • Only bottles of water to be made available to participants.
  • Snacks individually wrapped.
  • Anything used in the research should be disposed of if it cannot be sufficiently disinfected (such as post-its).
  • No cash payments to be made to users. 

FREE Handbook

COVID-19 UX Research Handbook

We’ve put together a handbook with all of the information you’ll need in order to carry out UX research in a COVID-19 world.

You might also like:

Home UX Lab – our purpose built homely, cosy and relaxing in-house lab

I Need Users – specialist user recruitment agency

Top 10 major risks of poor user recruitment: Is your recruitment negatively affecting your research?

Recruiting the right participants for a study is a difficult task and an essential component of the research process. It ensures your user research is valid and the end results (your design changes) are effective.

“Poor user recruitment may have major negative impacts on your research”

It’s well worth the extra time, effort and cost to ensure you recruit representative participants who can provide useful qualitative feedback. Recruiting the right participants is the foundation of effective user research, because your research results are only as good as the participants involved.

When the recruitment of participants for your research is poorly carried out, there is a whole host of negative consequences and potentially a dramatic negative impact on your research and validity of the findings.

Top 10 major risks of poor user recruitment

1  No recruitment at all!

When the agency tells you they can recruit your target users, but it turns out they can’t. This is one we’ve personally experienced. We briefed an agency on what we needed and even gave them the full screener to use and they promised they could deliver. At the last minute, they suddenly pulled out as they realised they were unable to recruit any of our target users.

2  No-shows

The worst thing that can happen on the day of the research and whilst you have your stakeholders and your manager in the observation room is that a user doesn’t turn up. This might happen when people are not carefully selected and their reliability has not been assessed during the recruitment process. However, sometimes things do happen that can’t be avoided – One time a user called us at the last minute to say they wouldn’t be able to make it as they’d just crashed their car on the way to see us! Certain target groups are understandably less reliable (mums often have sick children or last minute childcare issues), in which case you might need to consider recruiting a standby user to stay onsite.

3  Late-shows

Late shows put a lot of pressure on the researcher so need to be avoided as much as possible. There may be bad traffic that day, the bus was late, or the user may simply be poor at time keeping. You should always ask people to arrive earlier to account for these little problems.

4  Uncommunicative participants

Part of good recruitment, is assessing the user’s ability to verbally express themselves. A poor recruitment process can lead to the shortlisting of participants who struggle to express themselves and struggle to communicate their opinions to the researcher.

5  Misinterpretation of your needs

Poor user recruitment is often caused by misinterpretation of your needs due to a lack of expertise in UX research by the recruitment agency. Often agencies don’t clearly understand what is involved in doing user testing / UX research and because of this lack of expertise, they struggle to understand exactly what you need and therefore they fail to recruit the right people.

6  Non-representative sample

If the agency doesn’t understand your needs, they won’t be able to craft an accurate screener.  The screener is essential for selecting the right candidates. It may surprise you to hear that many agencies don’t even use a screener, they simply send out a message with your requirements asking for people to let them know if they meet all the criteria. It means it’s a lot cheaper for them to recruit as it takes less time, however, it’s much more likely that users will tell untruths simply to fit the criteria.

7 Brand advocates and bias

Companies who recruit themselves often don’t realise how much they are biasing their own results. A real world example we have just seen, is a retail e-commerce company who are asking for users through their social media channels (along the lines of, ‘love our brand? come in and give your opinion on our website!’). Firstly this type of recruitment attracts people who are already brand advocates and therefore are more likely to give you positive feedback. Yes, that’s nice to hear but not very useful, especially as your aim is to grow your business and attract new customers – what do they think, what will make them switch brands? Also bear in mind that it’s highly likely that users will use your website before they attend the research too as they know they’re going to be using your website. Using a third party keeps this hidden until they attend the session as they won’t know they’ll be using your website until they are at the session and they can’t swot up beforehand!

8  Not enough time to recruit

Working as a UXer means working to tight timescales and an iterative process. It used to drive us crazy that recruitment agencies would need 4 weeks notice to recruit (or they’d turn us away as they were too busy). Fortunately, we have a solution for you, keep reading to find out!

9  Recruiting ‘experts’

Someone slips through who works in web design or who used to work in your sector. They are obsessed with tiny details that ordinary users wouldn’t pick up on and there will be very little of their interview that you can use afterwards.

10  People who just want the money

Their aim is to get through the session as quickly as possible so they can get paid. They don’t interview well as their mind is purely focussed on finishing the tasks quickly as opposed to getting into the mindset. Good recruitment screens out this type of person.

The solution

All of the above can be easily avoided by using good recruitment methods and a thorough user recruitment agency who specialises in UX user recruitment. They are almost impossible to find, and our own bad experiences have led to innovate within the UX industry.

We’re bringing to you our new UX user recruitment agency, I Need Users, founded by UX experts, Keep It Usable. We totally understand your user recruitment needs and your research because we do it ourselves on a daily basis. I Need Users also provides quick, flexible and last minute options to suit your iterative methods.

Need help or advice?

If you’d like to know more about UX participant recruitment and how it can help you, contact our UX experts for free, friendly, no-ties advice.

Other posts you may find interesting:

Top 10 reasons why good user recruitment is crucial to the success of your UX research
12 Reasons to invest in UX
5 User tests every Product Manager should commission