Improving the user recruitment process for user research and testing

By Jess Lewes15 May 2018Opinion

People for Research's business development director Jess Lewes raises awareness of user recruitment, the value it can add to research and argues it doesn't need to be something to be scared of

When I joined People for Research in 2013 we were seen as a supplier to most of our clients. Through attending conferences and local meetups and building our knowledge of UX and how design and research projects work, we have been able to adapt the service we provide to work smoothly alongside digital transformation projects. This has allowed us to specialise in recruiting people for user research and testing, working with leading UX consultancies, UX teams embedded in global tech companies and dedicated user research teams in central government departments. Now we are treated as partners by many clients, not just suppliers, actively involved in generating essential research, which supports decision making in design sprints.

Without the knowledge gained through conferences and events, and support from some of our oldest and most loyal clients, this would have been a more challenging journey. It’s great to see the Bristol UX and conference scene so buoyant, and we are honoured that Pixel Pioneers is returning to our home city again in June.

Evolution of the UX sector

In the time I have been working for People for Research, the UX sector has continued its incredible growth. My role involves dealing with a lot of our new enquiries and supporting companies setting up either a UX function or ongoing testing. What I have experienced is a growing number of companies employing researchers to complement a dedicated UX function. As well as companies putting more budget behind the research part of design work, which suggests more organisations understand the value research can bring.

Although this shift in perception is positive, dedicated and experienced research teams are not the norm yet. Instead what is more common is teams built with people who have side stepped into a UX function from other teams in the business.

There is training for UX designers

Anyone working in UX will know that this is common because historically there hasn’t been a lot of formal training available, and many people who have helped to shape the industry have moved from other disciplines with complementary skill sets, such as psychology and human centred interaction (HCI). There are more training courses now: General Assembly, for example, run free introductions to UX design, and Hyper Island offer a  three-day course in designing digital experiences for humans.

Conferences and informal meetups, such as the one I co-run on a monthly basis, UCD Bristol, can offer a valuable supplement to these training courses, allowing experienced people to share knowledge, as well as creating spaces for collaborative workshops and learning through actually trying out theories.

Ida Aalen is talking and running a workshop about easy and affordable UX at Pixel Pioneers in Bristol this June, and she will be asking the question ‘why don’t we test with users more often?’. Paired with the talk from Heydon Pickering about inclusive design, this could be a very powerful line-up for anyone working in UX who wants to increase the level of research they conduct.

It’s not uncommon to hear tales from UX people of senior stakeholders just asking them to ‘do the UX’ without investing appropriately in the right areas, such as quality research. So, although people outside UX understand that a good user experience can make for a very successful company, as an industry there is still a lot more we could be doing to raise awareness of what UX actually means.

What about training for user recruitment?

This brings me to user recruitment, an area that is often cut from budgets and there is often little guidance or training available on how to approach it properly. I recently gave a talk about assumptions and implicit bias in user recruitment at UX in the City in Manchester: my aim was to explore the complexities of user recruitment, especially in the context of user research projects with very specific user recruitment requirements.

For example it can be easy to assume that all young people are digital natives and confident about technology and data use.

I was chatting to Scott Smallman, senior user experience consultant at digital agency Valtech, about how to screen people for user research to assess their digital confidence. Scott mentioned that he spoke with a person in their 20s who was confident when it came to using computers to access online services such as support while searching for jobs. However, this person relied on other people to help move data across when they got a new phone because they were nervous about what would happen to their data if something went wrong.The purpose of the talk was to start a conversation about the impact of how recruitment is planned, the messages we are given by clients providing the recruitment brief and the language we use in content seen by participants before they attend research. As part of this conversation we have been working with a group of people in the South West who are looking at the participant needs in research. This is all with a view to increase the research being done around the journey a participant goes through when taking part in the actual research.  

How can we increase the amount of quality research being done?

My theory is that if recruitment is less intimidating, and organisations have a better understanding of the value it can add to research, then this will enable more research to take place which should further inform design. For anyone new to user recruitment, I would recommend reading this blog post about the importance of the recruitment brief in the user recruitment process, written by Emma Howell, UX designer and research lead at cxpartners.

People for Research are generating guides and we are putting together a series of webinars to share our knowledge. We also recommend speaking with veteran UXer Joe Leech, who is running a workshop on UX psychology at Pixel Pioneers in Bristol this year.  

Apart from the UX psychology and user testing workshops on 7 June, Pixel Pioneers Bristol features eight talks on the following day, covering design systems, inclusive design, perceived performance, variable fonts, and more. Sign up today!