Three tips for user testing moderators

May 6, 2020

As a usability testing moderator, you have a responsibility to your stakeholders to observe participant behavior and collect verbal feedback. But moderators also have a responsibility for managing the participant's experience and comfort during the session. The relationship you build with participants during the user testing session is just as important — maybe even more so — as writing realistic tasks for the discussion guide or asking the right open-ended questions during the session.

Here are steps you can take to ensure you build rapport with participants, whether in person or remote.

1. Don't rush your introduction

A good intro should set expectations for the usability session and build trust between the moderator and participant. Along with introducing yourself, your role, and those of any observers, give background about the session's purpose, the types of questions that will be asked, and how their feedback will be used to improve and optimize the product.

The word "test" can be intimidating for some, so you can put them at ease by letting them know there are no right or wrong answers — the prototype is what's under scrutiny. A good introduction will also:

  • Get their consent if the session is being recorded and explain how the recording will be used.
  • Remind them that if you don't answer questions or give vague answers, it's not because you are unfriendly — you are just trying to remain neutral.
  • Invite and encourage them to think out loud during the session.

2. Pay attention to signs of frustration and fatigue

woman at computer conducting a usability testing sessionRecognizing and allowing the participant to become frustrated with tasks can be useful — after all, the purpose of the session is to uncover these issues. But quality might start deteriorating if participants become frustrated with themselves. They might become conscious of their performance or begin to blame themselves and give up. Acknowledging their feedback as important or useful to the improvement of the product can alleviate some of the frustration participants might be feeling.

Fatigue can also create tension during the session, potentially diminishing the quality of participants' feedback. A good rule of thumb for usability testing session length is 45-60 minutes, but fatigue can always set in earlier. Observing body language and verbal cues can help you recognize when it might be time to suggest a quick break or wrap things up.

3. Be flexible with your tasks

You've probably spent a lot of time reviewing your stakeholders' research objectives and planning a discussion guide that will uncover useful insights. If a participant is not willing to do something, don't force them. You can gracefully move on to the next task and get feedback from your other participants.

If you have time between sessions, take a few minutes to consider why the participant might have been uncomfortable with the task and be open to adjusting your questions and tasks. For example, a participant could be unwilling to complete a task that requires them to reveal personally identifiable information, even if it is just collected in a prototype or test environment.

Keys to successful usability testing

Even if you have the right questions in the discussion guide and follow other best practices, you risk getting quality feedback from participants if you don't build rapport. Taking the time to set expectations at the beginning of each session and reinforcing them throughout the session are keys to creating an open environment for collecting the most useful insights.

User experience relies on real users' feedback to create and refine digital products that are useful, usable, and desirable. Bellomy has a team of trained and experienced moderators that can recruit testing participants and facilitate UX testing sessions. Contact one of our experts to explore the right methods for improving your digital user experience.