As Director of Research at Userfy, I spend a lot of time observing users as they test digital solutions like websites, apps, prototypes and wireframes.

A key part of my job is spotting patterns in user behaviour. Whilst I typically have an hour with each participant as they test a product, the real value in Userfy’s work often comes from considering the shared experiences that a group of users are having. Issues with a product that are consistently experienced across multiple users are often the most important to fix – depending on how severely they impact a user’s ability to use the product effectively.

Something which has repeatedly struck me across our user testing projects is how many users use the phrase “But that’s just me” when explaining their experiences – whether that’s because they find something confusing, there’s something they don’t particularly like or they’re providing a suggestion for how things could be improved.

To give an example, in a recent project where we were testing an online application process, the final page left all six users feeling confused about whether they had completed the process, or still had a step remaining. An icon in the navigation bar was the cause of this uncertainty.

Despite this being an issue for all of the users, many of them used the phrase “But that’s just me” when explaining the problem.

Why does this matter?

As a researcher, this phrase acts like a warning beacon for me. It indicates that the user may be feeling self-conscious about whether they are ‘unusual’ in their opinions and are misattributing the problems they’re having as being down to them, rather than due to a potential issue with the website.

If a user is using language like this, it’s really important to reassure them so that they remain honest and open for the rest of the session.

Here are some suggestions as to how to do this:

  1. Reassure participants from the start
    The opening words with a user at the start of a testing session are incredibly important for getting them into the right frame of mind. I always explain to a user that if they experience issues during the session and there are bits that they find confusing, this is down to a problem with the product. I explain that this can be a good thing, and helps direct our attention to areas that we need to improve.
  2. Offer support and agreement where appropriate
    A massive challenge for a researcher is to remain neutral and not influence the way a user is thinking, particularly by avoiding things like leading questions. Despite this, it’s important to offer your appreciation and understanding for the problems a user is experiencing. If a user explains an issue they’re having, its ok to offer your agreement and state that you can understand why they’re having that problem. A user will naturally look to you for reassurance that they’re saying the right sort of things and if you don’t subtly offer this type of encouragement, they’re likely to become more closed off and may become worried that they’re being unhelpful.
  3. Let participants know they’re not alone
    If a user is saying “But that’s just me” when explaining the problem, let them know they’re not alone. By saying something as simple as “Yes, other people have picked up on that too” it can help to reassure a user that they’re not unusual and actually their experiences and opinions are shared with others and may make them feel more confident in speaking their mind for the rest of the session.

Ultimately, this is just a small part of a much larger challenge that researchers have to provide an environment for a user where they can feel comfortable and confident enough to behave naturally and talk openly. At Userfy we are always looking at ways to improve our User Testing. Whilst great feedback from our clients is hugely important, we’re also always delighted to receive excellent feedback from the users we have tested. In the past we have had users call up our recruiter after completing a test to specifically say how much they enjoyed it – a clear sign that they felt happy, confident and comfortable taking part in our research.

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Meet the author:
Dr. Sam Howard
Co-Founder and Director of Research at Userfy