Dummy guide to recruiting participants for quick, on-the-spot interviews

By Julia Christensen,

February 26, 2015    5 mins

At WAE we often use ‘guerrilla research’ — also known as ‘street interviews’ or ‘hall tests’, which allow us to gather immediate feedback from real people, in real-life situations.

While guerrilla testing doesn’t replace the rich insights you get from traditional in-depth interviews, it is a very versatile methodology that can be used quickly at any phase of a project, to gather insights into general behaviours or to answer more specific questions around functionality or features of a digital interface, for example.

We have run more than 130 sessions to help shape the new TfL website, and have picked up two awards in the UXUK Awards!

Here are some handy insights on how to recruit participants.

Before you start

Explore where is best to run the research, a place where people would be more eager to spend a few minutes talking to you: near a coffee stand, in a place where a lot of people pass by on their way to get their lunch, etc…

Observe. Use a mixture of ethnography and psychology to understand the type of person you’re trying to recruit — this will save you time and frustration later.

Choose a place to stand so you have the best view of the location’s flow of traffic.

Avoid eye contact, don’t give away that you want to stop someone, otherwise they will avoid you.

Avoid stopping people who are either wearing headphones, look like they are in a rush, or people in groups.

Don’t use a clipboard, and if you have a pass keep it hidden until you start talking to someone (although it can help to put people at ease once you initiate a dialogue);

Do you need permission? Find whether you need permission to run research in private places such as cinemas, banks, tube or train stations, coffee places etc…

Keep an eye on the weather, for example you might want to avoid running a full day of testing in the middle of January to avoid getting a cold!

During the research

Don’t smile too much when you stop people, you need to build empathy first;
Be concise and clear in explaining why you need some of their time. Make them feel their opinion is valued. If you have one, show a pass or ID that proves you are working for a particular company or part of a legit research organisation to increase their trust;
Offer a small incentive if possible, and mention it at the start to peak interest;
Wait to make your selection, talk to them for a few seconds to understand whether they fit your requirements and are fluent in the language the moderator speaks.

In conclusion

Don’t get frustrated when people ignore you. Don’t be discouraged if it takes a long time before you stop someone, using the tips listed above will help enhance the quality of who you stop, and ultimately the quality of the insights you collect. For our work with TfL in busy stations, we tend to recruit about eight people in a day.

What makes guerrilla research very successful is that it’s fun and can quickly feed insights into a project, however it is not suitable for research that requires either a very specific user profile, or that involves a deep exploration of a topic.