When performing a one-on-one usability test, do you ask your testers to introduce themselves and give a brief background about themselves? Or do you just introduce yourself, give background about the site they're testing, and begin?

  • 1
    As folks mentioned below this kinda depends on the stage. Are you asking this in regards to making the participant comfortable or are you asking them these questions as a screener? It also depends on where you're doing your 1:1, e.g. a mall test would be conducted slightly differently compared to a traditional usability lab setup. – firedrawndagger Apr 24 '14 at 2:30

It would be a personal choice on how you wish to conduct your usability testing sessions.

In an ideal situation your participants have been recruited and screened prior to testing. The screening process is based on requirements, which guides screening questions and confirms qualified participants. This means that you are well aware of who they are, their background and a little about themselves.

When it comes time to conduct the usability test a very basic flow I follow is:

  1. Introduce myself
  2. Have participant sign any necessary forms
  3. Ask pre-test/background questions
  4. Ask test questions and collect performance data
  5. Ask closing questions
  6. "Thank you and get out"

I never just ask "tell me a little about yourself" or "give me some brief information about your background". All questions should be to the point and very applicable to the product you are testing.

If I've had the chance to go through a proper recruiting process, the pre-test questions are very brief and serve mostly to just identify the individual within the recording season. "What is your name?", "What is your role?", "How many years of experience do you have on this product?" - then go. You can now watch the recorded test session without having to go back and look at the recruiting information to figure out who the participant is, and if you do want to go back to find them you can do it easily... because they just told you who they are (instead of "test participant #5").

If you don't go through an in-depth recruiting process your pre-test questions should be more specific to the user's experience in the environment and related processes/products. One would hope you've done a little filtering before so you at least have a rough target audience.

Introductions and background in the pre-test is fine, but never (in my opinion) ask an open ended question. Ask the questions you need to ask to get the background information you need to get for the usability analysis you are currently conducting.

  • 1
    I'd tend to just go over the screening questions briefly with them particularly technical requirements to which recruiters can sometimes misunderstand responses. On the list above I always add the statement: "We're not testing you: we're testing the software, so no response you give can be 'wrong'" – PhillipW Apr 24 '14 at 16:40
  • @PhillipW, good call! That sort of statement is hidden in my above list somewhere between 3 & 4. It is too easy for participants to feel they are being tested -- I've been in several sessions where participants were petrified the results would be shared with their boss! – Nicholas Pappas Apr 24 '14 at 17:19

I would normally ask the tester a little about them, but in light conversation.

This makes them feel a little more at ease and they get used to talking to you a little bit and it can also be good to get some more background information and help you shape more specific scenarios for them to make the test as realistic as possible.


I find it beneficial to start off getting to know the person a bit. It gets the conversation flowing and you can transition right into the test without it feeling forced or methodical. This usually makes for a more natural and comfortable testing experience for the tester.


Either I or a recruiter have already asked participants a series of demographic questions to screen them and make sure that they'll be a good fit for that study. I'll typically ask a few questions that are based on that information, particularly if they were recruited by someone else.

For example:

"I see that you've been djing for 15 years. What genre(s) of music do you dj?"

"How many years have you been using OS X?"

"Which neighborhood in San Francisco are you living in currently?"

I try to keep it relevant to the study and ask questions that can be answered briefly. An open-ended question can encourage participants to begin talking at length about unrelated topics and I prefer to avoid interrupting participants whenever possible.

I do consider it valuable to ask a few conversational questions before beginning a study. It helps establish rappor.


When I have an informal period before the study begins, then I will chat with them during that time. For example, for in-person usability studies, I have to pick up the participant from the reception desk and walk them to the usability lab. The walk is a few minutes, and we chat as we walk. I don't ask them to introduce themselves and give a brief background. I ask specific questions like "have you ever been to our campus before?" or "have you participated in a usability study before?" I will sometimes ask them to refresh my memory about answers to specific questions in the usability study screener. "Can you remind me how big your infrastructure is?" is one of my standard questions for my current role, where I'm usually talking to system administrators.

When we are in the usability lab, my questions are focused on the goals of the study. In that case, I introduce myself, give them some information about what will happen during the study and a reminder that we're not testing them but rather our software, and give them the opportunity to ask me any questions. I sometimes have some questions that I will ask before we delve into the task list, which are gathering additional information beyond what was gathered in the screener or to clarify something ambiguous in their answers to the screener.

This assumes that your participants were screened for relevant characteristics before you scheduled them to participate in your study. In the absence of such screening, then I will ask them questions similar to what I would have asked if I had pre-screened them.


The answer to this question really depends on your research goals and the product you are testing. If you are going for "hard truth", more quantitative data; and you have many participants then it will be only a waste of time. E.g. if you are looking for usability issues of a museum website and your participants are people who work with computer at work, parents between 30 - 45; then I would think that I would not need to talk to them. Being friendly would be enough to carry the research and identify the problems. That was what I did with museum websites. In another project, I was researching on a very private personal product related to sex life. Getting the participants to "open up a bit" helped to not only identify the usability issues, but also inspire me when I was doing the redesign. One more thing, there is always a risk of the participant getting a bias when they get to know you. It s a subconscious thing. We tend to critisize less or hide bad things about themselves or about something we dientify wit them even from people we slightly like.

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