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6 usability tester archetypes and how to handle them


Thomas helps researchers find the best candidates for their tests. He also makes sure that everyday operations and test sessions run smoothly.

We’ve all met them. The tester who talks too much or too little; who’s too slick or too khhhh-phhhho-khhhh-phhhho (more on that later). The good news is, even if you can’t change their behaviour, you can tweak yours to effectively manage them and get the most out of your interview session. Without further ado, meet six of the most common tester tropes and their kryptonite. Of course, any resemblance to actual events or people is entirely coincidental.

1. The Talkative

Personal motto: “More talk, more thoughts, am I right? Did I tell you about my Uncle Jamie, who...”

How to recognize: You have five minutes left of the interview and you haven’t learned anything about the usability of your product. About Uncle Jamie, on the other hand...

How to handle: Oversharers aren’t the goldmine of user feedback and ideas they might seem to be at first. Do they have a lot to say? Certainly. Too bad that 90% of it doesn’t have much to do with what they’re being asked about. On the plus side, they’re usually full of energy and enthusiasm. On the downside, they’re your schedule’s worst enemy. Your mission here is simple but critical: keep them on track by any means necessary. (Sorry, Uncle Jamie!).

Start the interview off by telling them exactly the topics you have to cover and how much time you have to do so. Don’t hesitate to nudge them if you feel that the discussion is going off track. Easier said than done, you say? Use the “W” face then, says Burton Advisors’ Jordan Burton. “Simply purse your lips in a ‘W’ shape, as if you are about to ask a ‘What’ question. Humans are programmed to interpret this unique mouth-shape as an indication that the other person is about to ask a question.”

2. The Tight-Lipped

Personal mantra: “Yes. No. Yes. You know what? Make it a no. “

How to recognize: You’re three questions in and you feel like a barrister preparing a client for a deposition. You’re suddenly reminded why you never went into law.

How to handle: Make small talk before you make big talk. Open-ended questions starting with “how”, “what”, “where”, “when”, “why”, “describe” or “tell me about” are great conversation starters. Whatever you ask, make sure to express genuine interest in what your interviewee has to say. Here’s a pro tip from change communication expert Traci Beach: "Make a point to repeat the other person's name back to them. This helps disarm them and build rapport, so it's important to remember someone's name, and to use it throughout a conversation.”

3. The Power User

Personal mantra: “Alright, let me tell you how your software works. Or any software, really.”

How to recognize: They tell you they found a critical bug in the code but fixed it for you, no biggie. Their favourite hobby is trending on GitHub.

How to handle: Remember that the feedback a Power User offers will probably be quite different from the experience of the average user. Playing around with the type of software they know inside out is less of a challenge for them than it is for someone who’s seeing the interface for the first time. 

Now, is this necessarily a bad thing? No, but here’s what you can do about it: try to find out as much about their professional background and experience as you can. It will help you put everything they’re saying into context and lead you to the right conclusion instead of skewing it completely.

4. The Darth Vader

Personal mantra: “Khhhh...phhhho... khhhh… phhhho...”

How to recognize: James Earl Jones, is that you?

How to handle: Bad audio is where usability interviews go to die. Ask your interview partner to fix the audio on their device, put on earbuds or move to a quieter space where you can talk without any interference or disruption.

5. The Too Agreeable

Personal mantra: “Please like me.”

How to recognize: Agreeable people want to be liked, simple as that. Compassionate and altruistic, they tend to be trusting, see the best in others and make great friends, listeners and team players. Overly agreeable people want to be liked whatever it takes. That’s a huge difference because popularity often comes at the cost of their own voice.

"Being nice is a wonderful thing, and we want humans to walk around in the world being kind to each other and having a general outlook of being helpful and polite," says clinical psychologist Jennifer Dragonette. “Where things get dicey is if you use that kindness to manipulate other people into liking you or acting a certain way that benefits you.”

How to handle: Overly agreeable people often refuse to take a stand or express criticism for the sake of “getting along” with others. Make it clear that giving positive feedback on every aspect of your product is not what benefits anyone in this situation. Offering open and honest insight is. Create an atmosphere where they feel they can do so without being judged or thought of negatively. 

6. The Pro Tester

Personal mantra: “I dare you to ask a question I haven’t heard. Twice. In the last hour.”

How to recognize: They have already answered the question – correctly – before you’ve even  finished asking it. These testers are often present on multiple, if not all, usability testing platforms, so this is clearly not their first rodeo (or three hundredth). 

How to handle: Similarly to the Power User, this is another could-be-good-could-be-bad type of deal. On the one hand, a Pro Tester has probably honed their testing skills in a variety of contexts and tasks. You can count on them to follow instructions, complete tasks on time and walk you through their experience in detail. On the other hand, there’s a good chance that canned answers will rear their ugly heads during the interview. 

Our advice: ask for a concrete example to dig deeper into how they feel about the product. Even better: ditch your canned questions like pro interviewers do. According to Spark Hire CEO Josh Tolan: “The best interviewers in journalism don’t prepare a strict list of questions to ask interviewees. Instead, they prepare by knowing the topics they want to touch on during the interview, then they listen to the interviewee so they can lead a conversation on those topics.”

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Customer service is incredible, a five-star service/support - they are superstars! I was able to find participants all over the world that will definitely make an impact on our product.

Irene Cazaux

UX Designer