Designing the User Research Participant Experience

We know it’s essential to conduct research with people who use our products and services. But what’s it like to be a participant in our research? Ben Cubbon and Nic Price discuss how to design a UX research participant experience that meets the needs of participants and gets deeper insights as a result.


Ben and Nic are in the midst of a voyage of discovery: they are exploring what is it like to be a user research participant and how understanding participants’ needs can help them design better research in the future.

They want to know:

  • Who are the people who participate in our research?
  • How can we give ourselves the best chance of recruiting the right participants?
  • How can we meet their needs to reduce the anxieties participants might have?


Ben and Nic described their recent research findings, based on five in-depth remote interviews, one day observing a participant recruitment team, and a survey of participants.

They found that:

  • 48% pf participants would not take part in a piece of research over Skype.
  • 41% of participants would not take part in a home visit research, as this felt intrusive for them.
  • There was discontent with focus groups – often people are taking part because they want to have their voice heard and influence design, but they feel they can’t always do that in a focus group.
  • 44% of participants have been referred on by a family/friend/colleague.
  • Once participants have taken part once, they are likely to take part again.


Ben noted that they also discovered a number of blockers to taking part in research, including bad parking arrangements, travel costs and logistical difficulties, and health conditions, such as agoraphobia.

To illustrate this, Ben and Nic shared two personas they developed during their research. They discussed “Karen” who works 9-5, likes taking part in research, but needs research opportunities that fit in with her schedule. They also discussed “Ron”, who is self-employed, works from home and doesn’t like unfamiliar places. He needs to feel comfortable in the interview environment.



Delegates worked in groups to suggest how to design a recruitment advertisement for Karen or Ron.

Nic shared their model for the user journey from the research participant’s perspective, and explained that this model highlights the various needs we could be meeting when recruiting participants. He singled out issues around communicating with potential participants if they are not selected for a particular project, and the waiting involved in the process at different stages of the journey, which can be anxiety-inducing. Reducing this anxiety will help us get more representative responses to feed into the research.



Nic and Ben divided the stages of their model research participant user journey into five sections. In groups, delegates were asked to look at a specific stage in the process to suggest ideas that could be prototyped in their alpha stage to improve the experience for Ron and Karen so they are as relaxed as possible so we get the best insight, and afterwards they have the opportunity to give further ideas.

Ideas included texting information to participants, holding information meetings in cafes to explain the process and answer questions, arranging transport for participants, holding evening/weekend interviews, checking in with participants to confirm details and address any last minute worries, and allowing time between sessions so moderators can come out and talk to the participant before the interview. Delegates also suggested offering home visits, establishing the participant’s comms channel of choice and their preferences for payment method.

Nic and Ben concluded by emphasising that the research journey starts before the camera starts!

Ben Cubbon

A Senior User Researcher in Government, currently at HM Courts and Tribunals Service leading on the Strategic Service design of a Reformed Justice System. Previously from Office for National Statistics. Ben has expanded and led research teams of various skills. He has a strong methodological background with a Masters in Investigative Psychology.

Nic Price

A Veteran π-shaped webhead, information architect and service designer, Nic has headed up digital product and service teams at the BBC. Since 2007 has worked as a consultant and contractor, researching, designing with clients large and small in both public and private sectors.