User research recruitment

Top 10 tips when recruiting participants for user research projects

As a user researcher the one element during a user research project which still causes me to worry, even after 16 years, is recruiting participants. I always ask myself are we going to be able to recruit the right participants for the study within the project’s timetable?

This is particularly true when working on complex projects where user research recruitment criteria can become quite complex.

My top 10 tips when recruiting participants for user research projects

  1. Work with a good recruitment agency – over time build up a relationship with the agency (or agencies you work with)
  2. During the pitch process speak with the recruitment agency about the potential project to gain their input in terms of the difficulty or ease of recruiting participants as early as possible. It is worth investing this time
  3. Explain upfront to participants about what their involvement will involve. During a discovery phase of a service design project we can often visit participants several times with the duration of each visit lasting four or more hours (this could be in their home or place of work or where they socialise)
  4. Work closely with the client to develop the screener
  5. Don’t be afraid to reject participants who don’t meet your criteria (although on complex user research projects you may need to compromise)
  6. Allow enough time in the project timetable for recruitment
  7. If the project is particularly complex over recruit the number of participants you are aiming for (this won’t slow things down if a participant drops out)
  8. Avoid asking friends/family members to become a participant in the project
  9. If working on a complex project identify key gatekeepers to that ‘user community’ who may be able to help you to recruit participants
  10. I can’t emphasise point 6 enough ‘allow enough time in the project timetable to recruit participants’


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