Penelope Rance

My UX research & design ramblings

Moderating Research

I have just been asked to start coaching some of my colleagues on how to do UX research as we look to mitigate the risk if I can not run a session.

To start with we will just be looking at how to moderate a session, when all the admin and the script have already been sorted out. So I started thinking about what I would say to the team.

Knowing some of them can be a bit chatty the first thing I wrote down was:

Ask your question, then shut up.

If the script has already been written, then a bunch of thinking has already gone into what to ask and how to word it so it is not leading or a closed question etc. You should not have to ask the question and then enlarge on it. Just put it out there and stop.

Following on from this was my next thought:

Silence is your friend.

It really is. As a researcher you need to get comfortable with silence. You need to give your participant time to think through their answer, they do not need to hear you filling that space or asking another question. Of course you can prompt them, ‘Tell me more’ but again stop and give them the space to answer your question.

This led me onto the next point:

It’s not about you.

On my first go interviewing someone, I asked them a question and they started to tell me a story. ‘Oh yeah I know about that’. Luckily this was a training session and the chap told me, never do that as the participant now thinks you know all about it and will not give you all the detail you need. And even if I do know all about the thing we are talking about, the participant is likely to have some insight that I do not because they use it in a different way from me. They are after all the expert of their journey.

I hope you have heard this one before:

When running usability tests, make sure to focus on what they are doing more than what they are saying.

It will give much more valuable insights watching as they click on something repeatedly in frustration before telling you how easy it was to use.


Don't correct them or tell them how they should have done the task.

We are not testing the participant, we are testing the website or prototype, so resist the urge to tell them what they should have clicked or where they should have looked. As far as the participant is concerned they completed the task and you hopefully learnt lots about your product.

If you need them to be in a certain place for the next task, guide them there without making a big deal about it.

Lastly, and most important:

Listen to your participant.

I know I just said focus on what they are doing, but do listen to them. I always start with a little bit of an interview even if we are usability testing. It helps to make sure the participant is really who they say they are. This is when you start to get an understanding of the people who use your product.

This is the part of my job I really love. The bit where I am actually paid to be nosy and ask lots of questions, but it only works if I let them answer those questions and really listen to the answer.

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