Research that you do alone ends up in only your head. No matter how good the report, slide deck, or highlights video, not all the knowledge gets transferred to your teammates. This isn’t your fault. It just is.

So what to do? Enlist as many people on your team as possible to help you by observing your usability testing sessions. You can even give your observers jobs, such as time keeper if you’re measuring time on task. Or, if you are recording sessions, it could be an observer’s job to start and stop the recordings and to label and store them properly.

The key is to involve the other people on the team – even managers – so they can

  • Help you
  • Learn from participants
  • Share insights with you and other observers
  • Buy in
  • Reach consensus on what the issues are and how to solve them


Who should observe: Everyone
Ideally, everyone on the design and development team should observe sessions. Every designer, every programmer, every manager on the project should watch as real people use their designs.

Each of the observers should watch as many sessions as possible. (Okay, you could settle for two sessions.) Seeing only one session is just a snapshot; what happens in that session may not be similar to what happens in the other sessions. If the observer who saw only one participant is in an influential position in the organization, that one set of observations may outweigh others when it comes time to get some consensus from observers about what the issues are. (Hint: You don’t really want that.)

Training observers: Ground rules are essential
Observers can watch from a separate space – most labs are set up this way – or they can be present in the testing room with you and the participant during each session. Either way, you should brief them on

  • What to look for
  • How they might see it
  • How to behave with participants
  • What to do (and not do) with their observations

It probably isn’t enough just to hand out a list of rules if this is the first usability test these people will watch. Consider holding a short training session to explain how the usability test will be conducted and what they can expect in watching sessions. Be plain (but diplomatic, of course) about your expectations of your observers.

Here’s one of my favorite sets of guidelines for observers who will be in the testing room with you and the participant.

If observers will not be in the testing room with you and the participant but rather will be watching from a separate viewing room, ask observers to resist redesigning or finding solutions until the end of the study (or until the day’s debrief, whichever works best in your situation). This is another good reason to give each observer a little job – it keeps them occupied at different things that demand the attention that might otherwise be given to premature redesign.

Working with observers: Reaching consensus
No small part of working with observers is understanding what their separate stakes in the test are. When you know this, you can facilitate discussion among observers effectively. If you don’t know, you’re probably working harder than you need to to gain consensus.

Consensus is important. Reaching consensus among observers means that

  • There’s a shared vision of where the design should go. This is good for the team and the design.
  • Everyone uses the same descriptions for issues. Having a common language for talking about the usability issues among departments or groups will help the diverse group visualize the user experience together.
  • Nuances and exceptions have been discussed and agreed on. Anything that isn’t optimally feasible to fix can be negotiated among design and development team members in a daily debrief or final design direction meeting.
  • There should be no surprises when you publish the report. Because team members observed sessions and discussed the issues together, insights and outcomes in the report should reflect the agreed direction from those observations and group discussions.


Feeling lonely? Gather up some observers for your next usability test from your design and development teams. Make them feel welcome, give them duies, and work with them to understand the issues. They’ll thank you for it.

Advertisements