Thursday, July 03, 2008

Avoiding Demographics When Recruiting Participants: An Interview with Dana Chisnell

Recruiting participants for user research ...

"User research works best when you match your participants to the people who will use your designs. It makes sense that teams would try to use the demographics, often compiled by the organization's market research team, as the basis of their recruiting efforts. However, this can be problematic.

To explore why this might not be such a good idea, I recently talked with usability expert, Dana Chisnell. Dana is the co-author of the recently published second edition of the Handbook of Usability Testing, and runs UsabilityWorks, a San Francisco usability research consultancy. Dana's organization recruits hundreds of participants every month for teams all over the world, so she is well familiar with the traps of using demographics. Here's what she had to say about it:

UIE: Recently, we've had a bunch of clients come to our doorsteps thinking they know who they should be recruiting for their usability tests. But what they really have are demographics, such as "70% are males between the ages of 18 and 24." I thought we could talk about why demographics are the wrong way to think about getting test participants.

Do clients come to you with demographics as a description of their ideal usability test participant?

Dana Chisnell: This happens all the time. Especially if marketing or market research is sponsoring the study you're recruiting for, it can be really hard to break out of matching market segments.

Recently, a client came to us (my recruiting consultant, Sandy Olson, and me) wanting to bring people into the lab to compare PC security software. They gave us a screener with percentages. How do you get percentages of individuals?

They wanted 25% of their 24 participants to be between the ages of 30 and 39. They wanted 50% of their participants to be female, 50% to be male. They wanted participants who were professionals, broken down into nine categories. One category was "Banking, investments, and real estate." Another was "Engineering, other." There was also "Education, training, students."    (Continued via UIE, Jared Spool)    [Usability Resources]

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