Usability professionals face a unique challenge: They have a very limited amount of time in which to understand each participant’s personality—what they know and don’t know, what they’re comfortable with, and what their limitations are—and to extract as much information from all of the participants as possible, despite their limitations and quirks.
So, how do you handle different types of personalities during usability testing? There is no surefire method, and there are always anomalies, but I have a bag of tools in my back pocket that assist me in getting the most from each person. When I feel things are getting a little off track, I ask myself what kind of person I’m dealing with. Identifying a type helps me choose the right approach quickly and systematically. Here are a few common types of participants you might encounter.
This person is probably not particularly friendly when you first greet him. That’s fine, not everyone is feeling chipper all the time. However, a few minutes into the test session, you realize that this person is apparently using your session as a forum for venting—perhaps about politics related to what you are testing or complaints about the client’s company. Perhaps he doesn’t usually have someone he can vent to, or maybe he’ll take any possible opportunity to let his water boil over.
With this type of participant, I focus on reining in his digressions. Of course, you don’t want to be rude and cut a person off every few seconds; let him rant for a bit, then refocus his attention on the test session and the tasks you need him to attempt. Here are some good segues that you can interject between the participant’s rants and your task prompts:
- “Thank you for sharing that information. Now, I’d like to focus your attention on….”
- “That’s very interesting. The next thing I’d like to discuss with you is….”
Keep a watchful eye on the clock to make sure that you’ll have time to get through everything you need to cover during the session. With experience, it’ll become easier and easier to deal with this type of participant and know the appropriate time to interrupt him, so you can achieve what you were hired to do. Even if this participant is a complete downer, know that you can get some great quotes to share with your client.
Your New Best Friend—Kind Of
From the instant you meet this person, you can tell that she is going to tell you way more than you ever wanted to know. You’ll barely have told her your name before she starts telling you about her neighbor’s dog. During the session, she has a tendency to digress, sharing unrelated stories about friends or family members. You’ll have your hands full, so you must prepare yourself mentally before you even set foot into the usability lab. First step: take a deep breath and smile.
In many ways, dealing with this type of participant is similar to handling the venter. However, the major difference between this participant and the venter is that this person tends to be an optimist, and she probably has good stage presence. This person likely has a lot of useful feedback to offer, but, again, the key here is making sure that you keep the participant on track. You’ll probably have trouble getting a word in, but you must find a good place to cut off the participant—for example, when she completes a thought, pauses, or even just finishes a sentence—take hold of your usability testing authority, and tactfully interject. (You’ll impress your client when you do this.) This participant is probably a charmer and maybe a jokester, so to lighten the atmosphere for yourself and your client, feel free to crack a joke—of course, while maintaining your professional aplomb. But most important, be sure to focus not only on what the participant is saying and showing you, but also on the time.