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Get Out of the Coffee Shop

Thinking inclusively starts with your research. Take the time to seek out current or potential users who don’t fit your demographic norms. Use a wide range of tools to find and recruit your research participants. Recruiting through existing channels (social media followers, email subscribers, and current users) often leads to a self-selecting pool of recruits: people who already like your products and are willing to go out of their way to respond. To get other perspectives, you need to dig deeper: more diverse guerilla research, recruitment agencies, and larger community tools (like Craigslist, UserTesting, and more).

The real world is more than just coffee drinkers

Guerilla research is awesome, and many teams already actively pursue it. That’s great, but make sure to strike strategically AND broadly. Don’t just hit up the local coffee shops and malls, where you likely feel most comfortable and where potential participants are more like you. Take time to talk to people at local train stations, subway stops, or bus depots. Chat with potential users outside the post office, Walmart, or at the DMV. Visit a local community college, wander around a tailgate party, or look for big local events, festivals or conventions. People are everywhere, but you should be looking for people in and out of your own comfort zone to better empathize with all of your potential users.

Guerilla research on college campuses

Here’s a method for recruiting lots of diverse users quickly that I’ve used for several projects now. Rent a table at a local college student center. (Typically you’ll want to arrange this through the college event / meeting staff, but calling or visiting the info desk will get you to the right place.) Put up a sign advertising $5–10 dollars for 15 minutes of time. Have a tight research script ready and tested ahead of time. It’s also helpful to have a team of at least 2 people per test so one person can run the test and the other can take notes.

We brought roughly 20 gift cards (I’d recommend a mix of options from on-campus or nearby restaurants, along with the usual Starbucks cards). Having a sign helped pique interest and explain the process for passersby if we were busy running tests. It was helpful to have a sign-up list for people waiting (or even better, someone dedicated to keeping track of who had signed up and where they were waiting).

At the local college where I’ve run this, we’ve typically managed to get between 10–20 sessions in a single day. The total cost for running it was around $270: $70 to rent the table and $200 for twenty $10 gift cards. During my last session like this, we learned that some students had actually posted about it on YikYak, and that was driving quite a few of our visitors.

Your mileage may vary

The college student method won’t be nearly effective if you’re testing tools for specific audiences. In that case, you may be better off attending or renting booth space at professional/hobbyist conferences, visiting with practitioners directly at their place of practice, or cold calling. In the last two cases, be mindful of when you visit and aim for times when they’re less likely to be busy. Regardless, you should still aim to be diverse in the places and people you approach for research.

Research real problems

As you build a more diverse pool of research participants, revisit test scenarios and discovery questions. Are you asking about both positive and negative experiences? Hearing about negative experiences can be simultaneously crushing and enlightening, but there are few ways to build empathy more quickly. When asking about negative situations, be sensitive and supportive. It can be very difficult for people to share negative experiences, particularly when they’re still fresh.

Screeners help, too.

Finally, you can pull from your existing audience and use screeners (either through tools like Ethnio or custom-built surveys) to target a more diverse range of existing users. Be sensitive and allow people to opt out of providing personal/demographic information if they’re not comfortable.

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