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Three important things about moderating research

Published on Wednesday, 13th June 2018, contributed by Natural Interaction Ltd

Adi Murphy is a UX consultant at local UX agency Natural interaction. She's been there since 2013 and has conducted literally hundreds (maybe more) research sessions with people from every walk of life.

Here are the three most important things she's learned about moderating remote user research during that time: 


This seems like an obvious one. Yet, I never understood how much a session could vary purely based on who your participant is. This is why knowing who your target audience is is so important. 

For example, I could be running the same test with two women who, on the surface, tick the same boxes: the same age and same household income for example. But one is a working professional and the other is a stay at home mother. The working professional breezes through the website, completing tasks easily and full of praise for the design. Her 45-minute session scheduled could be done in half the time. When it comes to the stay at home mother, she struggles. She hates the design. She can’t find what she’s looking for. Our 45-minute session turns into 60 minutes plus even though we're looking at the same website and the same discussion guide.

Two completely different sessions. It’s fascinating. This is why we test - because although we can assume, based on our experience, the only way to truly know the answer is through research with real users. And in the spirit of avoiding assumptions, it’s worth mentioning that you could have two near-identical participants, same profession/demographic, who’ll go on to have completely different experiences. It really does vary from person to person.


Building on what I've already said about my hypothetical participant who struggled, as you can imagine, those hour-long sessions are a SLOG for the participant. So it’s down to me, as the moderator, to try and make the experience outside the usability as pleasant as possible. We have a policy of letting participants struggle to do things themselves at least twice before intervening. This can be difficult to watch, but the suffering of one participant will potentially help us make it easy for hundreds of thousands of future users, on the real thing. My guidance can help a participant remember some positives from the situation. Even if the website was impossible to use and they ended up completely frustrated by it.

To read the rest of the piece, visit the Natural Interaction blog