Scenarios and research participant recruitment

Posted: October 21, 2010 in Useful advice for students, User-centered design examples
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You read in the Cooper book about creating context scenarios, and I wonder what you thought about them: Helpful? Not helpful? Too much writing? Not relevant to me because I’ll NEVER create software/a website from scratch?

Even if you won’t be in a position to create a product from scratch, thinking about users in scenarios is a very helpful skill in a lot of ways.

For example, we used the scenario of the usability testing session in class to develop the materials we need. Walk through the scenario from the perspective of each user (the research participant, the timer, the observer, the session manager) and I guarantee your materials will turn out better and easier to use. Something as simple as a paper form for recording observations is an interface that can have usability issues when you put it in context.

Another example is that of a job applicant’s file – something you’ll do sometime in the future. Say you email your resume. Many people email a file named resume.pdf. Now, create the scenario of the recruiter receiving these emails and trying to save the files. She’ll end up with a million files, all similarly named! Or imagine your attachment gets forwarded, and the sixth person who gets it doesn’t really know whose resume it is, because your initial message is buried down at the bottom of the email. What will the file name resume.pdf mean to this person? Not much. So, if you imagine these scenarios of how your email and attachment will be used, you’ll come to the conclusion that it’s better for you to include in your file name your field of study, your name, and even your university. Why university? Alumni have loyalty towards their alma maters, and may open the attachment only because they saw the university’s name in the file name! (This has actually happened to at least one of my former students). – Hint: same goes with assignments you email your professor. I love the thoughtfulness of an assignment that includes the student’s name, rather than assignmentCGT512.docx.

As I am sending out recruitment emails to undergraduate and graduate students, I am also thinking (alas, imagining!) scenarios. Where are they on a Thursday night? Are they up late working, and likely to read email? Or are they already out for the weekend? I am trying to imagine their full email Inbox with a long list of messages. What kind of subject line will stand out, be appealing, yet not spammy?

So, here are two fun (?) challenges for you:

  1. What subject line would you write for an email that asks graduate students to participate in this research? How about undergraduate students?
  2. What are some opportunities in your daily life where thinking in scenarios could help you make something better?
  1. hanjunxian says:

    I had very similar experiences when I needed to send an important email (may not be important to the recipient) to a person I had never known and contacted. I was often worried about whether my email would be filtered as a spam. Also, I had similar considerations about timing when I wanted the recipient to respond asap on Monday: Friday night? Sat? Sun? When should I send the email out? I also had some experience in designing fliers and posters. Not only did I have to consider the layout of information on the fliers/posters, but I also thought about where to post them. Was it better to put it on the wall along the path from dorms to the canteen?

    In terms of our recruitment emails, since the target user group for our team is graduate student, it’s easier to imagine the scenario – don’t even need to imagine 😛 As a graduate student, I got many emails about various stuffs such as incoming activities, survey requests, campus policy changes, coursework updates, etc., most of which I deleted without even finishing reading the title of the email. I feel extremely frustrated when I am working and suddenly interrupted by emails and in such scenarios, it’s more likely that I deleted them without paying any attention. Therefore, from my perspective, the best time to send out the recruitment emails is about lunch time, when all recipients ordinarily have access to Internet while producing least interruption to them.

    The subject line will be:
    Participants needed for usability test of nanoHUB ($25 reward)