50 ways to carry out more inclusive user research

As user centred design professionals, we ultimately have the power to decide which users we put at the centre of user centred design. Who we recruit and why is essential to the opinions and responses we will then go forward with when designing products and services that work for everyone. Including a wide variety of users should be at the heart of everything we do and, in an ideal world, wouldn’t even be a consideration. So what can you do to ensure your research activity is inclusive? We’ve come up with 50 easy ways that you and your organisation can take on board when conducting more inclusive research in the future.

At cxpartners, we’ve been doing some work looking into inclusive user centred design - both internally and with some of our clients. We ran research with a range of research participants, participant recruiters, and user centred design (UCD) professionals to better understand what we can do to make our work more inclusive. What we heard in this research was that almost everyone had the same issue: they wanted to be more inclusive but didn’t know what that looked like in practice.

After analysing these insights, we went on to ideate potential solutions to challenges that UCD professionals told us about when faced with actioning and living by a more inclusive approach. This has been an incredibly insightful experience which is why we want to share it with you. 

In our SDinGov talk ‘Applying inclusive user centred design in practice’, Megan Simmons and I share not only the findings from our research but also examples of easy things you can do to make your user research more inclusive.

Our recommendations fit into 4 main categories: 

  • Participant recruitment
  • Supporting your teams
  • Marking participants feel comfortable
  • Learning

Not all of these will work for everyone, but we’d like to think that there’s something in here that everyone can take away.

Recruiting inclusively

  1. Offer options for people to participate in research in person, over video, or on the phone. If the research takes place in person, offer the choice to have it in a familiar place like their home, a cafe, or a community centre, as well as in a research space or office.
  2. Run some research sessions outside of 9am-5pm on weekdays. For example, have a session earlier in the morning, in the evening or on a Saturday. 
  3. Offer shorter 30 minute research sessions, as well as some longer ones.
  4. Start conversations with recruitment companies early and with as much context as possible so they can provide accurate and sufficient information to potential participants. Aim for a minimum recruitment time of 2 weeks but more time is even better.
  5. When thinking about the people you want to speak to consider ‘Would I be ok saying that I purposefully excluded the people we didn’t include?’
  6. Have inclusive consent forms: for example, make sure language is easy to read and follow. 
  7. Provide the opportunity for people to give consent verbally and record this rather than writing it down. 
  8. Offer different methods of compensation so that participants can choose how they want to be compensated or reimbursed for their time. For example, they may prefer a voucher or donation to a charity. 
  9. Consider recruiting using multiple methods for a project - for example through charities, community groups, going and speaking to people in public spaces, or putting up flyers in public places, as well as through recruitment partners.
  10. Ensure people know they can trust you and that the opportunity is legitimate. You can do things like include your credentials in adverts, recruit through groups that potential participants already know and trust, and, if appropriate, encourage participants to spread the word.
  11. Create videos or information sheets/printouts to send to participants about how to join research sessions. Add images to illustrate what you mean, and make them engaging and clear. 
  12. Create a set of inclusive screener questions that ask about people’s background in a sensitive way using terminology that is appropriate to that person or group. 
  13. Ask recruiters to offer technology checks and support for participants if they need it. This could be checking that people know how to use Zoom and running through the basics before the session for people that would like to.
  14. If you discover after a round of research that certain voices were missing, make a plan of how to tackle this. This might be through talking to charities or running extra research. 

Supporting your teams

  1. Start the conversation in your teams at work - who do they think may be excluded from a project? Which voices are often missing from research? What would help you to reach them and for them to feel comfortable talking to you?
  2. Have a safe space to share ideas and questions about inclusion, such as an inclusion Slack or Teams channel.
  3. Measure your team members’ confidence with being inclusive in their work. Use this to promote the importance of inclusion to stakeholders, and track how this changes as you introduce new things to support team members.
  4. Don’t treat inclusion as an extra or additional component of your work. Embed inclusive UCD practices in every part of a project (for example in any documentation which details process checklists, recruitment screeners, project briefs etc).
  5. Design templates or best/good practice examples of inclusive screeners, bias checking workshops, and other tools people can use in their projects.
  6. Create a bank of all knowledge, guidance and templates, with a way for all team members to contribute what they’ve learnt. 
  7. Make a business case for inclusion that can be shared with stakeholders and client teams to prove the value of inclusion. Create a few slides that team members can reuse with headline messages and statistics showing why it’s important.
  8. Establish an inclusion working group who are tasked with driving forward inclusion in your workplace. They could hold workshops, organise training, or just start conversations, to keep improving inclusive practice.
  9. Develop a list of case studies showcasing where team members have been inclusive in their projects - what they did, and the impact it had. This is useful for people to get ideas of things that they should do, and to share learnings across teams. 
  10. Have a peer review system to check that projects are being run as inclusively as possible, and to identify areas for improvement.
  11. Explore technology that checks for inclusion. For example, tools that check for gender bias in language and accessible PDF documents that are accessible to screen readers.
  12. Plan for different scenarios so that researchers are prepared for any situation they may come across and can handle it appropriately, sensitively, and comfortably.

Make people feel comfortable

  1. Speak with participants before sessions to introduce yourself, share more details on the session, and make them feel more comfortable with you in the session. 
  2. After the session, send an email to thank the participant, and give the opportunity to send over any remaining thoughts.
  3. Check in with participants before the session to see if they need any adjustments, such as a translator, extra breaks, or someone to support them, but even better is to put all measures in place already so the person doesn’t need to ask in the first place. 
  4. Ensure that participants are able to navigate and access the place that the research is happening. For example, check to see that there are gender neutral toilets, the building/space is accessible to wheelchairs, or that measures are put in place to help people with different disabilities, such as blind or partially sighted people. 
  5. Make any tasks involved easy to read, in large text - 12 point should be the inclusive minimum - and try to use as few words as possible. Read things out if appropriate too, or summarise the task after you’ve described it so the person is clear about what you asking of them
  6. Avoid jargon, acronyms, and keep questions short and straightforward.Also make sure you only ask one question at a time.
  7. Offer participants the option to bring someone with them if they would like this. For example, some people may have a support worker, carer, or translator that they would like to bring.
  8. Offer a range of research types: 1-1 interviews, focus groups, co-design workshops etc. 
  9. Try to use researchers that are trained to research with different people and communities. If participants see this it can put their mind at ease that they will be safe, treated appropriately, and won’t be placed in an uncomfortable or distressing situation. 
  10. Design anonymous questionnaires to send to participants, asking for feedback of their experience and what could be done to improve it. 
  11. Partner with specialists or community leaders to run research. A good example of this is using a deaf researcher who uses British Sign Language to research with a participant who is also deaf and communicates in BSL. Doing this instead of using a translator or interpreter helps the participant to build rapport directly with the researcher. 
  12. If a person is showing signs they might be distressed, offer them a comfort break, change the topic of conversation, and, if necessary, end the session.
  13. If difficult topics have been discussed, try to end the session on a lighter and more positive note. Offer resources afterwards to offer participants further support if they need it.
  14. Ensure where possible that people can see your face and read your body language during a research session and vice versa.

Keep learning and questioning

  1. Research lived experiences before speaking to people. Find the terminology relating to the topic and their experience, history, and current problems people may experience. 
  2. Speak with charities before you carry out research to further understand the needs of the groups you’re speaking with and ask questions. This is also useful to understand the perspectives of communities you weren’t able to sample in your research participants. 
  3. Create networks and build partnerships with charities to keep conversations going. Offer your services in return, or compensate them wherever possible. 
  4. Create checkpoints to check unconscious bias in methodologies you’ve used.
  5. After writing discussion guides check for any assumptions, hypotheses or complicated language in the questions and prompts. Go back and check that you haven’t assumed anything!
  6. Hold training or talks with charities or specialists so they can share their experiences and knowledge with teams and offer the opportunity to ask questions. This is also a great way of getting people to think from a different perspective. 
  7. Create a bank of training materials that people can access to teach themselves about inclusion.
  8. Learn techniques to research with people who have different needs and adjust your questioning methods appropriately. For example, if you know a participant is neurodivergent or isn’t responding well to open questions, ask more closed (but not leading!) questions to enable them to focus their ideas. 
  9. Be aware of tokenism. Avoid asking questions to box tick, and instead try to think about participants as individuals with their own unique and valuable lived experiences.
  10. Have training on inclusion for all employees, so everyone shares knowledge and there is a shared standard.

If you’d like to talk about any of these, have tried any of these out, or have any ideas of your own then we’d love to hear from you. Send us an email to chloe.langan@cxpartners.co.uk or megan.simmons@cxpartners.co.uk, or send a message to us on Linkedin.

Chloe is a UX Consultant in our Financial Services team, where she draws on her experience in other sectors, including with the NHS. Her background is in natural language technology, including natural language processing and understanding.