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Moderating Usability Tests

How-tos, Tips, and Practice for Newcomers to Usability Testing

Moderating a usability test for the first time can be intimidating, but it doesn’t need to be. Learn practical strategies for moderating usability tests and interacting with test participants. This tutorial includes multiple opportunities to practice in a variety of situations and will help participants become more comfortable with facilitation.

Half Day Tutorial by Thyra Rauch (IBM), Carol Smith (Midwest Research, LLC)
Usability Fundamentals (UF)
6:00pm to 9:00pm on Tuesday, June 21, 2011

About the Half Day Tutorial

DETAILED DESCRIPTION OF TUTORIAL 1. Introduction of the facilitators. The tutorial instructors will briefly introduce themselves and their background in usability testing. (3 minutes) 2. Outline and agenda. The agenda for the evening will be presented, and the participants will be encouraged to ask questions throughout. (2 minutes 3. Demonstration of a sample test. The tutorial instructors will perform a short usability test, with one of the instructors acting as the moderator. The tutorial participants will be instructed to observe and take notes of things they noticed, paying attention to what the moderator said or did and how the test participant reacted. (10 minutes) 4. Interactive lecture. (60 minutes) When moderating usability tests, interaction with the test participant starts from first contact and continues until the participant leaves the test situation. Many factors can and do affect how the participant reacts to the moderator, and to the testing situation. These factors can influence what the test participant says and does, thus influencing the quality of the data that is ultimately gathered. Some of the more common issues and things to consider will be presented and discussed, offering rationale why they are important. These topics include the following: • Moderator’s position during a test – near the test participant or in another room (assuming an in-person usability test). Remote testing presents a whole other set of challenges, but is similar to the moderator sitting in another room. • Making the participant feel comfortable. Building a rapport quickly with the test participant helps them feel more comfortable in what is often a stressful, if not artificial situation. If the participant feels comfortable, they will be more apt to offer feedback, such as voicing what they are thinking and feeling. • How your voice and body language affect the session. Simply leaning forward or backwards if the moderator is sitting near the test participant can encourage or discourage behaviors. Moderators need to be aware of verbal encouragement as well, such as saying “good”. • Encouraging the test participant, e.g., thinking aloud. It’s important to encourage the test participant along without leading them to a particular activity or goal. Sometimes the test participant gets stuck or frustrated, but these experiences can often be the most enlightening, so the participant may need to be gently encouraged to continue exploring and trying. • Probing and interacting. Learning how to probe for more information takes practice. It’s important to not make assumptions, but to ask the test participant to clarify what they are thinking or doing. It is equally important to avoid asking questions in a way that may make the test participant feel that they are being interrogated (e.g. Why? Why? Why?). • Listening and watching. Sometimes it is not so much what the test participant does or says, but how they say it, the other sounds they make, or, what they don’t say. Noticing the participants’ physical reactions (facial expressions, body language, etc.), tone of voice, and expressions of emotion (expressing excitement, sighing, etc.) can be helpful in understanding their full experience. However, it can be dangerous to assume you understand what they are thinking. Asking questions about what they are thinking about, feeling, etc. can sometimes reveal completely different issues. In some cases a personal issue is on their mind, and is causing them to react to the study in an unexpected or extremely emotional way. • When and how to offer assistance. It’s not usually a question of “if”, but “when” you will need to offer assistance as a moderator. The moderator needs to be careful to let the test participant have time to think and not jump in too quickly if they are not saying anything. But, it is also important to really listen and let the test participant struggle for awhile, and then know when to jump in if they become too frustrated.
• Dealing with difficult participants. Sometimes it is necessary to end a session promptly and gracefully because the participant is unwilling or unable to cooperate with the study. We will present ways to handle these difficult situations. • Typical moderation issues. Participants will learn about presenting incentives, unobtrusive note taking, completing paperwork such as NDA’s, and transitioning between interfaces.

  1. Evening break. (30 minutes
  2. Practice, practice, practice. Many of us learn best by doing. And, usability test moderation is one of those things that is difficult to learn from just reading a book. It takes lots of practice. We will provide a series of situations where the tutorial participants can get practice, in a no-risk setting, with the various topics we discussed before the break.

The instructors will share anecdotes from their experiences after each round of practice to help attendees understand how they can apply what they are learning. (60 minutes) 7. Tips for moderation. The tutorial instructors will present some final tips they’ve learned from years of test moderation. (5 minutes) 8. Final Q&A and wrap up. Allowing the tutorial participants to freely ask any remaining questions they might have. (10 minutes)