Have you ever been the user in a research study?

As a researcher or UX Designer, we are constantly learning how to better understand our users by studying new research methods, methodologies, questions techniques, and the list can continue, but have you ever been the user in a research study, to see how it feel like to be questioned about a topic, how it feels like to see an interface that you don’t understand, how it feels like to be observed by three-four people, or even more challenging, have you ever been the user in a usability lab?

We all expect the user to think out loud, to be extrovert, to be willing to share his opinion and experience with a service or product, to describe in a very detailed manner every step he takes, but is this a valid expectation?

I was curious to get in the shoes of a user, therefore I participated in various user interviews or usability sessions as a user, and it was one of the best things I ever did, it opened my eyes really wide.

I found out that although I am a very experienced user, that uses a lot of apps, and I am also a UX Designer, I felt stupid when I didn’t know what to do in a usability session, and it wasn’t about the way that session was facilitated by the moderator, it is a very powerful feeling that cannot be ignored, or it is very hard to be ignored.

Let’s see what I have learned by participating in research studies as a user.

You can feel stupid

I facilitated almost a hundred usability and user interview sessions as a UX Designer, and I always make sure to ensure the users that they are not tested in any way, and as a moderator, seems straightforward to me, if I mention this, the user will be very open in telling me his thoughts. But is this really the case?

As I mentioned, I know the drill of a research session, I know that I am not tested, the facilitator doesn’t need to tell me that, I use a lot of apps in my day-to-day routine. But while I was attending a usability session as a user, when I was asked to perform a certain task in a usability session, a task that I didn’t know how to complete, I felt stupid. I did know that I was not tested, but I still felt like I am missing something, I was afraid of not being 100% attentive to the UI, I felt like I don’t know how to use the app, I was to blame. Why was I feeling that way? I know that I am not the one being tested!

The moderator did a fantastic job, it wasn’t about him doing something wrong, it was about a feeling that I think is very hard to remove or put away somehow as a user when you struggle with an interface. This was an a-ha moment for me, realised that I must be more empathetic with people that participate in my studies, I must accept that sometimes, some people don’t feel comfortable failing, people hate to fail, that’s a fact.

Again, I am aware that when I don’t know how to use something (an app, a ticket machine, etc.), it’s not really my fault, even in the real-life, but in fact, it doesn’t work like this, because our brain acts crazy. I was going to fill the tank of my car and stopped at a gas station that I never visited before. Got out of the car and a man from that gas station asked me if I need help, I said no because I did this so many times before, what can go wrong?!

It turned out that I didn’t know how to use the gas pump because I had to hit the “DEL” button to start filling with gas and pay cash. What?! I felt so embarrassed by the situation because I wasn’t able to use that gas pump, I felt like it was my fault, and it wasn’t the case! You can see below, and I will translate: “Cash — press the yellow DEL button”. What designer does that?!

Although it wasn’t my fault, I felt stupid. Now think about when you don’t know how to use an interface, and a couple of people are observing you.

Photo credits: nwradu

Learn how others facilitate research sessions

There are a lot of ways to learn to facilitate research sessions, either by doing and learning from experience, by reading books and theory, attending workshops, being mentored, the idea is that there are a lot of options.

But what if you observe how other seasoned researchers do their job by being the user in their session? That’s a very interesting perspective, a bit out of the box. You can analyze how they set up a screening survey, how they set up the session, what questioning techniques they use, how they manage the legal or incentive part, how they manage difficult situations, you have a lot to learn and observe!

You will start to observe that different researchers have different styles and approaches, and you will start to see patterns maybe. It’s important to write down all these observations, and then decide how you can improve your research questions by what you saw others do.

Make sure you attend different types of research methods, usability sessions, user interviews, card sorting, focus groups, there are endless possibilities.

Help with your input as a user

As researchers or UX Designer, we all know how hard is sometimes to find people willing to participate in our research sessions, because people have their own schedule, or they are reluctant, they don’t like a certain brand, or any other reason, doesn’t really matter.

If you fit the user profile a researcher is looking for a research study, why not participate? It’s a win-win process, you learn how others do research while helping them with valuable insights and feedback.


There are a lot of ways to participate in research studies as a user. You can register on Usertesting, Userfeel, or any other platform that facilitates usability testing, and you also get an incentive each time you participate!

You can also join Facebook, Linkedin groups, or Slack channels where researchers are looking for participants that fit their profile needs, there are a lot of ways to participate.

As a researcher, it’s important to have a wide range of ways to learn, improve, and understand your users, and one of the ways is by being the user.

Article originally published on: https://researchloop.net/2021/02/16/have-you-ever-been-the-user-in-a-research-study/

Thanks for reading! If you’re interested in UX Research, remember to follow me on Medium, Twitter (@research_loop) and Linkedin for more content.



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