How to Find Test Subjects for Usability Tests

Finding relevant test subjects is often the biggest reason why companies don’t get started with usability tests.
There’s no perfect place or model for solving this issue. The biggest challenge is the timing. Usability tests are usually done at work, i.e. during work hours.
This means that you must find relevant tests subjects who are willing and able to take time off in the middle of the day to help you.
Ideally, you should have the tests subjects come to your office, where you’ll have an hour available to do the test properly in a quiet atmosphere.

There are, however, other opportunities. I’ve listed some of the methods that I’ve used below. Hopefully it will inspire you to get started with usability tests.

Customers (SaaS)

If you run a SaaS business and you need to test your re-designed app, your onboarding flow, or other, try to find existing customers from your local area.

If your customers are happy and engaged they typically won’t mind taking an hour of to help you.

To thank them for their help, you can give them a couple of free months’ subscription to your service, early access to the new design, or other.

Customers (physical store)

If you run a physical store, you have a unique opportunity to do usability tests with some of your customers.

When you have a customer in your store that doesn’t seem to be busy, and doesn’t have any children with them, you can ask if they have a moment to give you some feedback on your website. More often than not, people would love to help.

This is also a great opportunity to hear if they’d like to come by another day when they have more time, to help test your website for an hour or so. To thank them for their time and help, you can offer them a gift certificate to your store.

Café or public canteen

When I first started usability testing, I just grabbed my computer and went to local cafés or public canteens which were usually filled with students who had some free time on their hands.

I asked if they had a moment to help me with inputs for my website. To say thank you, I offered them a cup of coffee and some Danish pastry.

This gave me a lot of great inputs. The tests were relatively short, but if you’re completely green when it comes to testing, it’s a good way to get started.

When the test is done, you can ask if the person has some friends that might be interested in helping with a similar assignment. Ask for their email addresses, and you might get a few extra possible test subjects to use for longer usability tests at your office for example.

The train

I’ve discovered that the train is an ideal place to do mobile usability tests. People are often just starring out the window, or checking their Facebook profile on their phone. Thus, most often people will say yes if you ask them to help you for a moment.

Remember to let people use their own phone to make the test as authentic as possible.

Temporary employment agency

You can also reach out to a specific temporary employment agency and hire people for your usability test. It will probably cost a little more, as the minimum time you can hire substitutes for is usually 3-4 hours. But the hourly rate usually isn’t that high.

This solution works well if you’re looking for a specific target group based on age for example.

Post on social media

One of the methods I’ve used and experienced great success with, was asking my Facebook network if they (or know anyone who) would be able to browse a website for an hour or so, and in return get a nice reward.

People will often bring friends and acquaintances who might be unemployed, on maternity leave, etc., and thus have the time to help.

Take-away usability test

The last option is to buy usability tests, for instance on usertesting.com. The challenge with this solution is that you can’t interact with the test subjects and ask follow-up questions.

These people are usually trained to do usability tests, which isn’t necessarily an advantage.