So You Want To Be A Usability Testing Moderator

What advice would you give to someone completely fresh to usability testing?

Here are the notes I gave at the start of a discussion guide to be used by people with zero previous experience.

  1. Stay neutral
  2. Be encouraging
  3. Be inquisitive
  4. Don't explain
  5. Take notes

Stay neutral

  • Try not to help the participant complete the tasks.
  • Avoid leading phrases such as ‘Do you think that was easy?’; try ‘What are your thoughts about…?’ instead.
  • We’re looking to observe their behaviour and see what we have designed poorly - if they fail a task that can be a good thing!
  • Allow them to work through the tasks at their own pace; some may be slower, others quicker.
  • Focus on what the user does rather than on what they say; often the two are not the same.

Be encouraging

  • Push the participants to speak their thoughts aloud, describing what they’re doing as the carry out the tasks. This will help what is going on in their mind while they’re looking at the site.
  • Try to put them at their ease so they don’t feel as though they are the subject of the test.

Be inquisitive

  • If a participant has difficulty, ask them what they were try to achieve and what they expected to happen.
  • They may get stuck due to the limitations of the prototype; this is an ideal situation to find out what the participant would find easiest to complete their task.
  • Allow for moments of silence for a participant to think through their options. Sometimes they will want to fill the silence themselves and provide further thoughts.
  • Clarify anything which doesn’t make sense to you, eg. they may contradict an earlier statement. Don’t be afraid to ask ‘What did you mean by..,?’.

Don’t explain

  • Any questions like ‘what should this do?’ should be answered with questions like ‘what do you expect it to do?’.
  • There’s a risk of biasing the test if the participant is told how something should work.

Take notes

  • Rely on the video to pick up most things but note anything you think important as it occurs to you.
  • Having a second person in the room to take notes is helpful but could overwhelm the participant.