Principles Research

User first design is top of mind right now. UX booth tell us that mobile first design is over, and the age of user first has begun.

If you speak with product managers about user research they mention the same problem. Recruiting the right users.

It’s tough for PMs, first they scramble for budget to get important research done. Then they find themselves organising the research logistics as their backlog grows and grows.

But recruitment is a priority, because if you don’t get the right users you can’t confidently validate your product. And you definitely can’t design user first.

Here are five tips to make user research recruitment a doddle:

1. Define who you want to speak to

If you’re recruiting based on a persona you’ve designed as a team, you’re off to a good start. You can recruit users based on the demographic and attitudinal factors that make up your persona.

But what if you want to speak to non-customers or a completely new sample group you don’t know much about?

You’ll need to go through any primary and secondary research you have about the group you’re targeting. If you don’t have any, consider doing some.

It’s not advisable to guess the criteria and recruit based on that. You could end up with an expensive research project filled with people who’ll never use your product ?

2. Create a list of screening questions

After you’ve decided as a team who you’re trying to reach, you’ll need to keep your thinking caps on. Pull together a set of key questions that users must answer before you recruit them.

Your screening criteria needs to have some hard disqualifiers. If they don’t fit the criteria, you need to politely chuck them out.

When defining this criteria you’re always striking a balance between being specific but not too stringent.

Too specific and the incidence rate (% of people eligible to take part) will be low. Fieldwork will take forever or you simply won’t get enough people.

As a rule of thumb you should relax attitudinal and behavioural criteria over demographic.

3. Let someone else handle recruitment

Outsourcing the screening criteria is not advisable because you may end up speaking to people who don’t represent your target market. That’s junk data.

But, outsourcing your recruitment often makes sense. The scheduling, contacting and following-up can be a real hassle.

So you’ve got two options: use a recruiter or use recruitment software.

Most consultancies that work with product teams use a recruiter. If you’re doing recruitment in-house you can cut out the consultancy and go straight to the recruiter. Reputable suppliers like Acumen are a good place to start.

In recent years, the trend has been to outsource recruitment and testing completely using online services like

Our preference is always a specialist recruiter over recruitment software. Manually vetting and checking users is important, because without quality users you can’t get quality data.

4. Pay and paperwork

Unless it’s B2B customers, recruiting for research costs money. You’ll need to incentivise users for their time.

Intrinsic incentives help, this can be anything that makes users feel the research they’re doing is worthwhile. Although, an extrinsic incentive (e.g. cash) raises participation rates like no other ?

Always remember you’re representing your brand throughout the process so it’s best practice to:

  • Get signed NDAs when showing sensitive prototypes
  • Get signed consent forms detailing what the research is about
  • Give thank you letters when it’s all done and dusted

Treat user research management like customer service: make users feel valued and happy.

5. Make it easy to re-contact users

Nope, I’m not talking about getting them Hooked. I mean get them into a long-term research programme.

Continually recruiting users is a time-intensive and expensive process. Starting from scratch each time makes little sense.

With the users’ consent and permission, you can re-contact them again for more research. Capturing this research sample in your CRM is often a good idea. If you’re a small business I can’t recommend Hubspot enough.

If you’re feeling even more adventurous you can grow these into larger communities. Verveis a company that can help you do just that.

Word to the wise: if you did use a third party recruiter make sure you mention upfront that you intend to re-contact users later for your own research.

Professional cat herder

Managing recruitment is one step in a good user research programme. There’s a shedload of brilliant practical advice from the guys at the aptly named Advanced Common Sense.

Wrangling those users all in one spot might be tricky, but once they give you that golden nugget of insight…you’ll be glad you persevered. Good luck.