So, how do you handle juggling all of these roles during a usability test session, while still gathering high-quality data for analysis? First, get a good night’s sleep before a session. Then, breathe deeply and adopt a good frame of mind before the session, and hope that everything goes well.
In this article I’ll describe some objectives for each of the roles you’ll need to take on, as well as provide some tips that you should remember to help you wear each hat successfully.
The Facilitator Hat
Your main responsibility during a usability test session is being an effective facilitator. There are three parts to facilitating test sessions, as follows:
- before sessions begin—A facilitator should go through a pre-test brief with any observers, explaining the purpose and methods of usability testing, as well as what observers should do during a session.
- during sessions—Once a session begins, the facilitator should greet the participants and put them at ease. As a facilitator, you need to ensure that your conversations with participants touch on all of the points that you need to cover and that you gather the most useful data possible. At the same time, you need to be conscious of not interrupting or talking over participants and avoid introducing bias into a session by asking leading questions. You should also observe participants’ body language. (See “The Psychologist Hat.”)
- after sessions—The facilitator should debrief any observers, going over their observations and any information that you should keep in mind for the next session.
Things to remember when wearing your facilitator hat:
- Before your usability study begins, create a discussion guide to direct the flow of the test sessions. The guide should include tasks and scenarios for participants. Always remember, this is a guide, not a script. (See “The Conversationalist Hat.”)
- At the beginning of each session, put participants at ease by explaining that the session is neither a test nor an evaluation of their skills and that there is no such thing as a right or wrong answer.
- Maximize the number of data points that you can gather by instructing participants to think aloud during the session. Also, whenever necessary, ask participants to clarify their points.
- To avoid asking leading questions, speak in general terms to participants. A facilitator might ask: “What is your opinion of this page?” or “Talk to me about what you’re seeing here.”
- Do not talk over participants. If you find that a participant is sharing too much information that is redirecting the focus of a session away from the points you need to cover, wait until there is a pause in his remarks, then politely move the conversation forward, refocusing the session.
The Consultant Hat
During a usability study, usability professionals’ responsibility to their clients is to gather valuable information for them. But having a client observe usability testing in person, or even remotely, can be a double-edged sword. While they are able to hear feedback firsthand, they also require some hand-holding from researchers. Clients do not always understand the different things that take place during a test session, so you may need to explain—for example, “I am asking this question this way because of x and y.”
Having a client observe a session in person does require you to be more mindful of yourself during the session, because the client can hear and see everything that a participant says and does, as well as what you say and do.
Things to remember when wearing your consultant hat:
- Enlist the assistance and support of a project manager or other team member to entertain the client whenever you are unable to sit and chat with them.
- Sit down with your client before the sessions begin and explain observation etiquette. Also, fill them in on common things that they may see or hear during a usability test session.
- Do a dry-run in front of your client, so they can get a feel for the flow of usability testing. This lets them bring up any concerns or questions before the sessions begin.
- Be open to hearing your client’s feedback between sessions. Listen to their concerns, be mindful of what they say, and make any adjustments that you can make without compromising the data quality.
The Conversationalist Hat
A usability test session is not meant to be a monologue, with one party talking non-stop. Whenever appropriate, a session should be a conversation. It is important to remember this at various points during a session. At the beginning of a session, a conversation helps a participant to relax and feel comfortable talking to you. Perhaps the most important conversations are those that occur throughout a session: when a participant gives you a golden nugget of information, you respond with a new question, and your question opens up a brief conversation that answers questions you didn’t realize you would have.
Things to remember when wearing your conversationalist hat:
- Use your discussion guide to lead the conversation, but do not treat it like a script. Sometimes the conversation might deviate from the guide for a few moments, but it will eventually make its way back.
- Do not be afraid to deviate from your discussion guide to ask a participant probing questions on a specific point. Acknowledge that the participant has said something interesting and indicate that you would like to learn more. One good way of doing this is by saying: “The point you just made is very interesting. Could you tell me more?” or “A few moments ago, you mentioned that you really liked the description of this feature. What about the description did you like?”