Finding participants for usability testing

User experience is about people and what they feel when they use a product or service. By excluding users from the process, design become based on best practices established through secondary research. The risk with this is the wants and needs of the users specific to your case are not met. Therefore, it is important to gather requirements upfront with primary research techniques and validate propositions with usability testing. Below are five options to find participants for any project.

The Street

Approaching people in the street can be a quick and cheap way to find participants. This method offers the opportunity to gather data with minimal forward planning and relatively low cost incentives to attract people for a short amount of time. However, it is difficult to screen participants, they are time precious and on the go with places to be. One way around this is to set up in a café or similar venue your target users are likely to visit. People are more likely to give you the time of day if they are in a place of rest. When taking this approach it may be beneficial to go beyond the standard rule of thumb of five participants to identify outliers more easily.


If you are fortunate enough to have a University nearby there will be an abundance of cheap participants. Advertising your study with posters on campus is likely to take a week or more depending on the incentive value. Even better is to get people to register their email address so you can recruit when needed and with a basic screener e.g. subject studied. However, a problem with this method is the participant pool will dominantly be undergraduates aged 18-23 who may have different values compared to someone with disposable income. If this is an issue consider targeting postgraduate students by offering a slightly higher incentive.

Existing Customers

Using existing customers as research participants is very advantageous as you have an existing database of information. However, recruiting engaged customers may not be the most beneficial as they already enjoy the service/product. In contrast it can be difficult to recruit lapsed customers, they are likely unsatisfied and do not wish to be bothered by the company, but will provide the richer insights to develop the UX.

Special Interest Groups

These are communities of people with specific interests that match your target user. Recruiting via group leaders on sites such as MeetUp can offer the opportunity to speak to a number of target users at an upcoming event. Incentives can be offered to individuals and/or to benefit the group as a whole. It is important to befriend the group and be transparent so it does appear to just be data harvesting.

Paid Recruiters

Working with specialist recruiters saves you the hassle and stress of finding people yourself. While this approach is more expensive, around £70 per participant + incentive, you have pool of high quality participants already organized for you. A list of recruitment suppliers has been complied by GOV.UK. Some companies such as WhatUsersDo have a pre-existing pool of participants and will also run a remote study for you. While this can be a great time saving method, there is a risk of ‘professional participants’ taking part who might not provide data insights desired.


The higher the incentive you can offer the more people will be interested in taking part and therefore the more specific you can be. Remember nobody works for free. Regardless of who you recruit the most important thing is to gather people’s insights when practicing user experience design. Any data is better than no data just as long as you can understand how it may be skewed and how to learn from that. It is also important to remember everyone is different and therefore design is never perfect.