Carol Rossi | Getting Started with UX Research, Part 2 | @crossiUX


In the December 2017 newsletterwe talked about how a well-designed usability study can tell you how users respond to your design and give you plenty of input on how to improve it. We also talked about the importance of planning the study and including your key stakeholders in that process, not just winging it on your own.

So now that you’ve identified the objectives of the study, your target participants, and what tasks you’ll give participants during the test, you’re ready to run the study!


Step 1: Greet participants
You’ll need 5 or 6 participants for your study. Schedule each person individually (focus groups are the F-word of user research) and arrange a quiet space where you can meet. Once you’re with the participant, don’t forget to be personable and put your participant at ease. Greet the person, thank them for coming in, and chat for a moment to help them relax. Introduce the study by saying “I’m going to show you our site and get your input. There are no wrong answers, and please be honest – you won’t hurt my feelings. I’d like you to narrate your thoughts out loud as you work through the site so I know what’s on your mind.”


Step 2: Run the study
There are two mistakes I see people commonly make when they first start running their own research: they talk too much and they ask leading questions. The problem with both is that you bias your results by planting ideas in the participant’s mind that they would not have come up with on their own. If you can conquer these (bad) habits your results will be infinitely more useful.


Instead of asking leading questions (“Do you like the red button more than the green one?”) ask open-ended questions (“Tell me more about your response to the red button.”). Instead of talking too much, just give the participant the task (“Find a recipe you want to make for dinner tonight”) then stay silent, watch what the person does with your site, and wait for the person to talk. Asking “tell me more” is a great way to bring out more feedback in a non-leading, non-threatening way.


Get one of your key stakeholders to take notes while you run the study, just ask them to remain silent just like you will be. At the end you can invite the notetaker to ask any questions of the participant. Don’t forget to tell the stakeholders about the non-leading question thing.


Most importantly, don’t forget to relax! Running the study is the most fun part of the process so allow yourself to enjoy it.  


Step 3: Going from raw data to insights
I think about data at many levels: there’s the raw data (e.g., “participant A could not find the Join button”), the trends that come out of that (e.g., “most people couldn’t find the Join button”), and the insights that come from those trends (e.g., “the Join button needs to be more prominent”).


First, get your stakeholders in a room and determine what you saw. The easiest ways to organize insights is to look at each task separately. What did you learn from all 5 participants about how they found recipes? Then go onto the next task.  

Once you’ve got the insights, I suggest you prioritize them into levels from severe (people could not complete the task, you really need to address this issue) to irritant (people were mildly annoyed), so you can easily identify the things that need to be fixed right now vs. later or not at all.


Then you’re ready to think about possible solutions to address the insights you identified. Caution: don’t confuse insights with solutions. An insight would be something like “The Join button needs to be more prominent” and a solution would be “Make the Join button red.”


And there you have it! You’ve just successfully run your first usability study. From here you can continue to deepen your usability testing skills.


Step 4: Hone your skills
Getting a quick intro is great to start but ongoing mentoring and feedback is key to really deepening your skills. There is SO much info available, from online courses to books to in-person courses. Here are some to get you started.


  • Steve Krug’s books Don’t Make Me Think and Rocket Surgery Made Easy are classics for a reason. These are a great place to start.
  • If you search “User Experience Research” on Medium you’ll find posts by awesome UX leaders around the globe.
  • User Research for Everyone. Set of 8 talks by leaders in UX Research. Highly recommended!
  • Observing the User Experience. The book of everything research, with detailed instructions on setting up and running usability studies and every other kind of study.
  • If you really want to get serious about adding research to your skillset, I suggest you take a longer term course so you really get to practice. Santa Monica College, UCLA Extension, and CSU Fullerton all have courses in UX research that will give you an opportunity to learn and practice techniques with a mentor.


About Carol Rossi


With 20+ years of experience, Carol has led projects around vision and strategy setting, brand retention and building, as well as tactical UX research. Learn more at and on LinkedIn.