War Stories - part 1

If you do enough research with real human beings you will start to build up a collection of ‘war stories’ about things that went wrong that you can learn from. This could be anything from you forgot the spare batteries to recruiting the wrong people to speak to and anything in between.

About a month ago I was supporting usability tests over two days in two locations. Each test was half interview and half usability test as we tried to map the participants journey through our process.

Day One started well, attendees and observers all turned up and although the room was cold, because we could not hear the participants and have the heaters on, the tech was working.

Our next participant came in on crutches. Not an issue as the building has lifts and there was lots of room in the testing room. However about 10 minutes before he was due to finish the fire alarm went off.

Now we had a participant on crutches to get down from the 4th floor while everyone else also needed to leave the building and we could not use the lift.

Luckily he was ok on the stairs if a little slow so not too much of an issue. My colleague also remembered to bring the incentive so we could thank him and allow him to go, rather than standing around in the freezing wind and then come back up to the 4th floor.

However my learning is to make sure you also pick up the participant list with phone numbers on so you can call the next participant and explain what is happening. In the end our recruiter had to help us out!

The rest of the day went well but my second learning of the day is to remember that the testing room is normally set up so people who could not make it to the location to observe the tests can watch remotely. If you stand in that room chatting, they can hear you!

After a busy day listening to our six participants we then drove on to our next location three hours away.

Day Two started less well. We were testing in a hotel, the tech did not want to play and our first participant did not turn up. This was probably a blessing in disguise as it allowed us to get the computers to talk to each other so we could hear and see the testing room and to set up the observation room without rushing too much.

We were trialing a new method of capturing our findings, which involved a lot of post it notes in swim lanes.

On Day One we had used four big whiteboards to work on but when we got into the hotel we realised they did not have enough clear wall space.

I ended up using the conference table as the ‘wall’ which our whiteboard paper stuck to very nicely.

However our biggest problem was not being able to hear our participants. Participant two was a very quiet man and even with my laptop sound cranked right up he was very hard to hear. The hotel tried to help but the sound out of their speakers was not any better.

We finally managed to get a set up that worked but my learning here is to make sure we travel with a good microphone and speakers when not using an actual lab.

It was a really good couple of days and we learnt lots, not just from our participants but also about how to improve our set up.