Facilitating a user testing session in a pinch

In digital projects, User Testing is a vital part of the discovery process. It’s how we define client needs, formulate requirements and design solutions. This is a practical guide for facilitating a user testing session.


Have note takers prepared

The best method I have seen is to write observations on post-it notes and stick them onto a printed-out version of the design. This can be blue tacked on the wall for later analysis. We tend to use green post-its for a positive observation, pink for negative and a third colour for a neutral observation.

If you are testing multiple participants on the same design, remember to write the participant number on each observation.

Have your session tasks ready

Time disappears quickly in user testing sessions and it is better to understand what the participant is doing with clarity than to rush to get more tasks completed. Although we ideally want to get through all of our tasks, If you have a lot your should prioritise them in case you have to cut some out.

Formulate tasks around your hypothesis. An example of a hypothesis is:

‘Adding a basket icon in the header of the app will result in a quicker checkout.’

Your tasks should encourage the participant to act without giving too much direction for example:

‘Add 500grams of Bramley apples to your basket’

The session

Give an introduction

I start with a personal introduction followed by an explanation of what we want to explore in the session. It is important that the participant is put at ease, but there is no need to be overly familiar. A friendly, non-judgemental tone such that you might experience speaking with a hotel concierge will do. If you can relax and enjoy interacting with participants, everyone will be far more relaxed.

Explain that the session is not a test of the participant, but rather an exploration of an idea and that there are no incorrect answers.

If you are recording the session on tape or video, make sure that the participant is aware of this. Do not assume that they read it in the non disclosure paperwork.

Get some background

Now comes time to get some contextual background. Your questions here should be minimal as we will want to be getting on to testing our hypothesis, however allow the participant some space to open up. Frequently I have observed that the first response to a question is ‘polite’ and intended as a courtesy to the facilitator – Keep listening and leave space for the participant to comment further. For example:

Facilitator: ‘What is your experience of the product?’
Participant: ‘Yeah, I really like it.’
Facilitator: ‘…’
Participant: ‘I mean, I think it would also be better if there were a mobile version..’

Testing a prototype

When you are going to test a prototype, ensure you have given necessary context. Let the participant know that the prototype may not be fully functional and there will be some areas that may not be clickable, but if necessary you will step in to support them. You should be conscious that this may also influence your final results.

It is my preference to use a coded prototype where possible. This is because so much of the experience is embedded in the medium. The realer the experience, the realer the results.

Open questions

Ask the participant to Think Out Loud as they complete tasks. When probing for further understanding it’s important that we ask open, non-leading questions to elicit information and not influence the participants actions. Open questions generally are questions which cannot be answered with Yes or No.’

As the participant is completing the task they should be talking to you about what they are doing. If they go quiet, gently remind them by asking:

And what are you doing now?

If the participant get’s stuck you can ask a question like:

What is it you want to do now?

If the participant directly asks you what they should do you can ask a question like:

What do you think you can do?’ or ‘What do you want to do?

There will inevitably be times when you ask a closed question. It’s okay, just pause and ask the question again this time in the correct fashion.

Wrapping things up

End the session with some follow-up questions to clarify your observations. Be careful not seek confirmation of your own ideas. All insights are valuable, even negative ones.

My favourite question to ask is ‘How do you feel about this product/experience’. Asking for the feeling promotes raw and less intellectualised insights to surface.

Leave some time at the end of the session to thank the participant for their time and handle any questions they have. Often multiple sessions are run in a day and leaving some space to deal with chatty participants will mean you aren’t feeling rushed. It seems like a small thing but it contributes to the rapport and the environment in which you are testing.


Once you have seen all of your participants, it’s time to make use of all of those insights. A day of user testing can be pretty exhausting, so collect up your notes and keep them safe – Be careful if leaving them on the wall that they don’t get taken down.


I’m won’t go into detail about analysing insights here. But generally the insights are grouped into themes and voted upon during a workshop. From the chosen themes are derived needs, new hypothesis then new prototypes/solutions are created and the process repeats.

I will finish by saying that I am not a Researcher, but this could be useful to anybody who finds themselves in a user testing pinch.