Fundamentals

Foundational methods for practicing design research.

Incentives

What

Offering usability test or user research participants gifts to encourage participation and to thank them for their time.

Why

Incentives often result in a more diverse, representative set of participants. Without incentives, you often end up recruiting people with a strong intrinsic interest in your website. These people may not have the same needs and experiences as a less interested pool of users. With incentives, you can encourage less interested, more representative people to participate.

Time required

N/A

How to do it

  1. Figure out what's legal and appropriate. Consult your agency's Office of General Counsel on options for providing incentives or gifts to encourage participation in usability testing, consistent with your agency's authorities. The options will depend upon your agency's authorities and the specific facts.
  2. Consider contracting for a recruiting service to help you get an effective research pool.
  3. If incentives are determined to be permissible, clearly communicate when and how participants will receive incentives. In the emails, postings or other materials you use to recruit your participants, describe the incentive and how participants will receive it (via mail, pick up at an office, etc.). This is particularly important for “remote” research.

Applied in government research

  • No PRA implications. Even when users are present, the PRA explicitly exempts direct observation and non-standardized conversation, 5 CFR 1320.3(h)3.
  • If you are not working with government employees, you will need to observe standard precautions for archiving personally identifiable information.
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Privacy

What

Designers potentially might work with many different categories of information, across a number of different contexts. You have an obligation to steward information in a way that respects privacy.

Why

Designers have an obligation to respect and protect privacy. People will not honestly participate in design processes, nor make use of products and services, they do not trust.

Time required

N/A

How to do it

  • Familiarize yourself with the Fair Information Practice Principles, a set of precepts at the heart of the U.S. Privacy Act of 1974.
  • Consult your organization's privacy office, which may include your general counsel, if you plan to substantially make use of information that could potentially identify specific individuals.
  • Inform and collect the voluntary consent of anyone who participates in moderated design research. Ensure that all unmoderated forms of research (for example, web analytics) are covered by an easy-to-access privacy policy.
  • Pay special attention to all categories of information used throughout the design process. Note contexts in which it's not okay to share certain categories of information.

Additional resources

Applied in government research

The government's use of information about people is subject to a number of laws and policies, including: the Privacy Act of 1974, the Federal Information Security Management Act of 2002, and the eGovernment Act of 2002.

Conduct a Privacy Threshold Analysis in collaboration your agency's privacy office whenever a design calls for the creation of a new data store (for example, a database).

Ensure all collections of personally identifiable information (PII) are accompanied by a Privacy Act Notice. See, for example, 18F's Privacy Act Notice for Design Research.

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Recruiting

What

Identifying and gathering people to interview or who will test your product.

Why

Recruiting people who represent your core user group is a critical and oft-overlooked part of research. Time spent with the right people using the wrong methods is better than time spent with people who aren’t your core users while using the right methods.

Time required

1–2 weeks for 5–10 participants

How to do it

Seek out people who

  • Are trying to use the thing you are working on right at that very moment.
  • Recently tried to use the thing you are working on.
  • Used the thing you are working on less recently.
  • Have used something like what you are working on, and are likely to use what you are working on.

Reach them through

  • Relevant community organizations.
  • Impromptu requests in or near the relevant environment.
  • Your personal and professional network.
  • The new or existing website.
  • Existing mailing lists.

Applied in government research

No PRA implications. No information is collected from members of the public.

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