In 1924 and 1932 a company called Hawthorne Work near Chicago commissioned a series of studies to find out if the level of light within the building affected the level of productivity of their workers. The workers did increased output but not as effect of the different light intensity. They were aware of the fact that they were under observation.
Doing research involves human beings. This is a challenge for every researcher. Participants tend to fall pray to a series of psychological traps. For instance, people change their behaviour because they think or know they are being observed. They tend to conform their answers to what they think is expected or desirable. People are scared of being judged, of looking stupid, of being incoherent thus they adjust their answers and behaviour accordingly.
1. Don’t use leading questions You can prevent some effects by formulating and sequencing the questions in a way to not elicit certain responses (leading questions). Don’t ask questions like: “do you think our product is modern?” because it would elicit the person to answer yes even though she might think otherwise.
2. Don’t ask about future behaviours People have a hard time to imagine the future and even if they try to be honest, all they do is guessing. Their answer will be influenced by what they think to be the ideal behaviour. In real life, however people don’t behave in the most logical way. Instead of asking about the future, look at past behaviours to foretell the future.
3. Don’t ask the user how or what to design Users aren’t designers. They haven’t thought a problem through and won’t come up with a good design or solution. Avoid asking these questions as they won’t lead you to that next brilliant design.
4. Don’t provide a reason along with your questions When presenting a reason for a behaviour within your question, you condition the user to accept your explanation of why he/she didn’t do or did a certain thing. This will make it more difficult to find the real reason behind a behaviour.
5. Don’t intimidate your participants When participating in a research, usability test or experiment people find themselves in an unnatural environment surrounded by strangers. As an interviewer you have to make sure people are at ease. If several people are assisting you, avoid having them all in the same room with your participant. They can observe remotely. Give your participants to understand that there is no such thing as a right or wrong answer. Give them to understand that you are not judging them. Check your body language and keep all remarks for yourself. Be as neutral as possible. Also, make clear that you are detached from the design or product being tested. If people think you are involved in the design they might be inclined to please you by being more positive about it or by holding back critics. Lastly, explain the test procedure and tasks in a clear and easy way.
6. Don’t fall for the wrong participants Your research results are only as good as the participants you recruit. This is especially important in those sessions where you are testing on a small user group. Every well selected participant is a source of valuable feedback and there is a proven way to make the right choices: write a screener. The screener is one of the most important documents for a user research project. As the name suggest, in it you establish the criteria for your recruitment. Representative, well-spoken, and thoughtful research participants can provide invaluable feedback. Last but not least:
Keep your research goals in mind
Want to know more? Read on here for day 1: Assumption vs. fact
Image source: Malika Favre