One of the most important factors that contribute to a successful user research study lies in choosing the right participants (and the right number of them).
There’s some debate out there over how many participants you should include in a user test, and the right answer depends on what you’re trying to learn.
You don’t need a large sample size for this type of study. Research shows that 5 test participants will uncover 85% of a product’s usability issues. Run a study with 5-7 users, make improvements to your product, test again, and so on. This is more efficient and cost-effective than running one large study.
If you’re trying to discover trends amongst users, then you’ll need a larger sample of participants. This will help you establish quantitative findings so you can present a more convincing case to your stakeholders. If you’ve segmented your customers by various characteristics, like company size, income, or geographical location, you can start by recruiting participants based on those qualifications. Once you’ve established your segments, run your study with at least 5-7 participants for each segment.
When you’re narrowing down your participants there are typically two schools of thought: cast a wide net and test with a large, general demographic, or get super specific with your requirements and seek out a very specific user. Naturally, there are situations when one will be more appropriate to your research needs than the other.
The general consensus amongst many UX practitioners is to avoid getting too granular when choosing participants. The majority of products should be so clear and easy to use, that just about anyone could use them. With a general demographic, that’s exactly the audience you’ll capture. Plus, you’ll find participants quickly (sometimes within minutes when using the UserTesting platform). If you’d like to use a general demographic, make sure your study fits these characteristics:
The challenge with a wide demographic, however, is that those participants might not match your ideal customer. So while you’ll still get valuable feedback, you might not be hearing from your target audience. Here are a few situations when a narrower demographic may be best:
With the UserTesting platform, you can recruit from our panel of over one million users. You can find your target audience with just a few clicks. The broader your demographics are, the more quickly your test sessions will fill, and the sooner you’ll get your test videos back. If you need to test with a very narrow target market, it may take a few days to get your results.
UserTesting clients on both the Basic and Pro plans can set requirements for age, income, gender, country, web expertise, and operating system at test creation. Pro clients can also select the browser, social networks, and other requirements of their own choosing. You can also include multiple groups of users within a single study. This is good for making sure you’re getting feedback from different audience segments.
Screener questions are multiple choice questions that you pose to potential participants to exclude or include them based on your requirements. For example, if you need participants that have a certain level of familiarity with your product, a screener question can determine if they’re appropriate for your study. Pro clients have the option to set up screener questions, which are multiple choice questions that will allow users to participate in the test only if they meet specified criteria.
With the UserTesting platform, you can even test with your existing customers or audience. Our unmoderated, private panel allows you to submit a study to a private panel of your choosing for detailed, highly-targeted feedback and insights.
Get our best human insight resources delivered right to your inbox every month. As a bonus, we'll send you our latest industry report: When business is human, insights drive innovation.