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How to recruit participants for usability studies

Sheza Naveed

Usability study or usability testing is when people use and evaluate a product in order to test it. Usability testing is essential as it allows a product to be tested in its practical environment and thus be improved. User testing can be made simpler and cheaper by adopting the following guidelines:

Courtesy: NN group

Representative users mean that your usability testing group should represent all the users who will be using the product when it is rolled out. Leaving out any particular group will lead to skewed results.

Representative tasks mean that usability testing must test all the tasks that the users might perform with the product when it is rolled out in the market.

It is essential to recruit participants for a usability study. Most companies recruit their own employees for usability testing. Some companies use recruiting agencies. However, the cost of most recruiting agencies is significantly high.


Most companies do not pay their employees for participating in usability testing. However, users recruited from outside are usually paid. The incentive can have both positive and negative impacts on the users. While some users might do the testing more carefully and feel a sense of responsibility because they are being offered an incentive, others rush through the process to get their compensation and leave. A possible approach to this dilemma is to not inform users beforehand regarding the incentive and compensate them once the testing has already been completed. This way, we can still compensate the users for their time without compromising the testing.

External recruitment

Other than one’s own company, participants can be recruited externally through the following:

  • Simple random sampling by going in the field and asking people, such as in Guerilla testing.

  • Sending mass emails, posts in social media groups, etc.

  • Online services recruitment, such as Craigslist.

  • Recruitment agencies.

Inclusion and exclusion criteria

It is essential to take recruitment as an important step of usability testing. If the group is not representative, it can lead to incorrect and biased results. Based on specific needs, it is important to set inclusion and exclusion criteria to define boundaries. Inclusion criteria describes who can participate in usability testing. Exclusion criteria describes who cannot participate in usability testing. We can also send out a selection questionnaire in the population to have people answer certain questions that determine if they meet the inclusion criteria. All these methods lead to a good representative sample for testing that produces unbiased results.




Sheza Naveed
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