Usability: Interaction with the user – Part 1/2

Remember that the user is probably doing this for the first time and they can be a bit intimidated by the entire setting. Make them comfortable.

First contact

Ensure that all participants have your phone number so they can call in case they can’t find you. Ideally, it should be a phone number of one of your colleagues so that you won’t have to answer the phone during a session.

Some participants may be nervous about testing, and this feeling can be especially intense if they’re late for a session. Make sure you explain that they have nothing to worry about, and that running a bit late is not a problem – any stress unrelated to the website testing could distort your findings. Even if problems occur during the sessions, like the internet going down, make sure the user is not stressed about that.


Give the users a short introduction to what they will be expected to do. Exactly what you say will depend on circumstances, but here are some things you should mention:

  1. If the session is being recorded (and it almost always is), you should tell the user. In many countries, you’re even legally obliged to disclose that information. At this point, the user is allowed to withdraw from the test if they feel uncomfortable about being recorded. However, in my experience this has never happened.
  2. Start by briefly telling the user what they’re supposed to do. Not the scenario, but in a general sense – something like “We’re going to test the website of …
  3. Make sure you tell the user that you’re testing the website, not them. If they make a “mistake”, it’s the website’s fault. They should not feel bad about that.
  4. Encourage them to speak while working. This is very useful if you’re recording the sound, but even if you’re not, hearing their thoughts will be useful to the interviewer. However, explain what kind of information you need from them. Hearing them say “I’m scrolling the page … I’ll now click this …” is not particularly valuable. What you need from them are things like “I’m going to do XYZ because …“, “I didn’t expect this. I expected …“, “I can’t find the …
  5. Explain to them that what you want is to re-create the situation they would have had in their home or workplace. So whatever they would do there, they should do the same here. If at some point they would have called someone to help them or they would simply have quit, tell them to let you know when that moment has arrived. You’ll then ask them to carry on, but it’s worth knowing that that was the point when you would have lost a user.
  6. Tell them that you’re not there to help them with their task. You’ll just observe and ask a question from time to time. If they encounter a problem, they should try to resolve it themselves. Only when you see that they absolutely can’t resolve the problem, or it frustrates them so much that the whole session could be ruined, should you tell them how to proceed. However, also ask them: “Why couldn’t you figure it out on your own?
Usability: Interaction with the user – Part 1/2
Usability: Interaction with the user – Part 1/2

It’s good to have a checklist of things you want to say, just to be on the safe side.

Following this introduction, you could tell users what the task is, but you don’t have to. Personally, I don’t tell them yet.

Relax the user

Remember, you want to re-create the situation that this participant would have had at home or in their workplace. The first thing many users say as they sit down is: “OK, what do I need to do?” Although it’s great that they’re eager to start, it can also mean that they’re in a rush get it over with or they believe they should act quickly, but in their home environment, they would be much more relaxed.

After making your introductory remarks, take a couple of minutes to get to know the participant. Just ask the basic things like what do they do, have they done anything similar on other websites and so on.

This doesn’t have to take a long time – a couple of minutes chatting should be enough. The goal is to make the user feel good and not under any pressure to succeed with the tasks.

Missed the previous part?

No worries, you can catch-up and see our previous article in the series – Usability: Where the should be held


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