6 Tips for Usability Testing Moderation

Meg Davis  

June 18, 2012

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Usability testing moderation can be a challenging task, as each participant is unique and many times the prototype used in the session is not perfect. Thinking on one’s feet is necessary as a moderator. Here are a few tips & reminders to review before the next time you moderate a usability test.

3 Phrases to say as a moderator during usability testing:

  • “Remember to keep thinking out loud and verbalize any perceptions or thoughts you have as you go along.” - Use this phrase when a participant has fallen silent during the usability test. Don’t be afraid to say this phrase many times throughout the session if the participant has a habit of forgetting to think out loud.
  • “That is a limitation of the prototype you are looking at. What would you expect to see there?” – This is a great way to react to a participant pointing out an error or mistake in the prototype they are using. Acknowledge that what they have seen is an error, but also use this opportunity to find out what the user was expecting to happen or see in a certain place.
  • “What did you expect to happen when you clicked that?” – This is an effective question to help prompt a participant after you see them visibly react to something about the product if they have not yet said anything. It’s a more specific way to prompt a participant when you notice their facial expression changes.

3 Phrases to avoid as a moderator during usability testing:

  • “Good job!” You’re doing great.” – Avoid praising the participant. Since there are no right or wrong answers for the participant throughout the usability testing session, there is no reason to assess the participant’s progress through the session. This can lead to participant being afraid of “failing” the usability test or trying to please you as the moderator.
  • “Do you like this?” – Usability testing helps you understand if a participant can use the site, but the focus is not whether or not they like it. A participant may be able to understand and use the website, even if they do not like it. Preferences are better tested in a different format than task-based usability testing.
  • “Click here. Go here.” – Avoid giving the participant any instructions about how to use the site. After all, they are there so you can observe them as if they were using the product or website on their own!