How to Conduct User Research for Small, Personal or School UX Projects?

OK, I’m about to start online classes in UX Design at CareerFoundry and part of that education is completing several projects going through the whole UX process.

How to do user research for a school project like that has got me kind of worried. Actually being a shy person at heart, the idea of asking strangers to spend maybe 20 minutes with me and even perhaps be filmed seems very daunting at this point. What are my options?

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Your candor is admirable. I think this is something that lots of people suffer from but not many people have the courage to raise. :slight_smile:

I sit (perhaps too) heavily on the extroverted side of the line, but I have no doubt that @AshleaMcKay, @Natalie_Eustace and @Lukcha have some good advice.

I’d also love to hear from @maadonna and @Ruth on this one.

I reckon that once you do the first one, you’ll be completely fine. Even though you’re shy, you’ll be doing this one-on-one, not in a big group, and that makes it a whole lot easier.

It will probably also help you to be fairly structured with setting up the interviews. Approach people via email, make appointments with them, arrange a good location, confirm the appointments ahead of time. That way you have time to mentally prepare.

You should also be being taught never to interview on your own. You can’t manage an interview and take notes; and it can be an unsafe thing to do. Not sure what the school has arranged, but you might be able to take a buddy as note-taker - that will help you if you have a block speaking to a stranger.

If video is daunting (and it is even for me), don’t do it. There is really little need - audio is plenty fine.

You probably really also should think about whether this is a job for you. All UX work involves interacting with strangers, all the time.


Would it help to initially source your research participants via referral’s? This could include sports or community groups that you’re associated with. Even putting the call out on a social platform like Facebook asking for friends to share it.

Wishing you all the best and please, let us know how you go! :slight_smile:


I have met many more UXers who identify themselves as being introverted, myself included! The first time is always daunting, but if your experience is anything like mine, you’ll be warmed up and getting great insights in no time at all.

The first block of interviews I did I felt I focussed too much on where I felt I messed up, “Was that question too leading?”…“Why didn’t I pause a bit longer”… It takes time to train yourself to ask the why, where, what, when and how question. If I could have done something differently then it wouldn’t have been to have not made those mistakes, it would have been to focus on the great stuff that did come out of the interviews.

I don’t know if it is part of your course but I’d really recommend reading Steve Krug’s first book, “Don’t make me think”, there is a test script in there that you can adapt to meet your needs, it covers how to ask the participant if they can be recorded. I’ve done countless interviews, and 40-50 usability tests, and I’ve never ran into a situation where I could not record the participant.

In short, interviewing is easy to learn, getting good at it takes a lot longer - but you’ll be fine when you get started.


That’s interesting Donna - I’ve only done a handful of interviews with others. I think that’s why I find the recording super important, so I can listen back afterwards. It’s more time consuming for sure, but for small organisations, and companies early in their UX maturity it’s often tricky enough to get one person doing the research!

Thanks SO much everyone for your feedback, it’s ALL very valuable to me. I guess I should clarify a few points:

  • Although I’m, at heart, essentially a shy person, I am able to function quite well and, in fact, have learned to proceed with what I need to do anyways in almost all cases. In fact, most people don’t even believe me when I say I’m an introvert at all.

  • I guess what I was really trying to get at were ideas on you can go about finding the people you need to participate in user studies and how to get them to agree to participating, particularly when it’s being done just for school, there’s no compensation involved and, at 20 or so minutes, it’s not a quick thing.

  • I like your ideas of using email, referrals, and online forums/social media sites. It also occurred to me that most all of my fellow students will have the same issue so we can help each other out - although I guess one would have to be careful not to skew the results by only interviewing people who may in some ways be more knowledgable or comfortable with technology than lets say the average person on the street (for testing a consumer app I mean)

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You’re very welcome to use this community to solicit participants. I know I’d be happy to help out, if appropriate.

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My experience was exactly the same! It was scary at first but then it was really fun! User research is exciting because you find out new things which leaves you buzzing with ideas and that feels pretty awesome! I’ve also found that a lot of people out there are genuinely willing to help out and participate in user research - they recognise that it’s a chance to be heard and make a difference.

For recording the session, I usually take notes or record the audio.

Hi @SteveCrow

Recruiting participants definately gets easier the more you are exposed to it.

The number one point you need to consider is - what do you want the outcome of the test to be?

In the mean time here are some tips to help you get started:

Shoot, fire aim and get extremely specific about your target. Define one audience to start with (the one with the greatest need fo the project to work) and focus on recruiting 10 or so participants.

That’s because 3-4 won’t be able to make it and you need at least eight. You could even recruit at the school if you have permission, take a prototype of the application and do some on the spot guerilla testing in the canteen. Always offer some kind of incentive, it might even be a coffee or cake voucher in return for their time. It works wonders :slight_smile: Definitely ask permission to record the session you can either record voice or actions. Always ask if you can keep in touch with them afterwards - they could be your earliest adopters of the technology and may be free to test with you again in the future.

Here’s an email script you can edit for your own invitation:

My name is X and I’m conducting a [name of test] session on [company name behalf] to learn more about your {preferences} especially if you are:

  • An admin account holder for your institution or University
  • A researcher
  • An author
  • Student
    all of the above

All feedback gathered is 100% anonymous and confidential. If you would like to take part, you’ll receive an XXXX voucher for your time.

Details (if send via email)
Where: XXXXX
Requirements: XXXXXXX
Choose a test date:
Friday 19th, Monday 22nd or Tuesday 23rd February ​2016

Simply hit reply to this email with:

  1. A suitable date/time for you
  2. Your Skype ID (if necessary)
  3. Your profession

Only 8 places available, please be quick! I’m looking forward to hearing from you.


Wow, thanks @louise_campbell1 for taking the time to answer me in such detail-very much appreciated :slight_smile:

Are there any software applications out there you can recommend that allow one to conduct user tests online that record video and audio of the participant as well as their on-screen actions? I don’t think Skype does.