Getting Started with Popular Guerrilla UX Research Methods

Getting Started with Popular Guerrilla UX Research Methods

Warning: Bananas may not be the best incentive for all participants!

Amanda’s last article covered how to “guerilla-ise” traditional UX research methods to fit into a short timeline, and when it makes the most sense to use them.

Now, she’s back to walk us through some of the most popular guerilla methods—live intercepts, remote and unmoderated studies, and using low fidelity prototypes. She covers pros, cons and tips to make sure you make the most of your guerilla research sessions.

In my last article, I talked about how you can “guerilla-ise” traditional UX research methods to fit into a short timeline, and when it makes the most sense to use them. Read the post here.

This time, I’ll walk you through some of the most popular guerilla UX research methods: live intercepts, remote and unmoderated studies, and using low fidelity prototypes.

I’ll cover pros, cons and tips to make sure you make the most of your guerilla research sessions.

Conducting research in public

Often the go-to guerilla technique is to skip the formal participant recruitment process and ask members of the public to take part in your research sessions. Live intercepts are often used as shortened versions of usability tests or interviews.

Getting started

Setting up is easy—all you need is a public space where you can start asking people for a few minutes to give you feedback. A cafe or shopping centre usually works well. 

This is a great way to get lots of feedback quickly, but approaching people takes a little courage and getting used to. 

I find it helps to put up a sign that publicises the incentive you’re offering, and if possible, identifying information like a company logo. This small bit of credibility makes people feel more comfortable.

Make sure you have a script prepared for approaching people. You don’t need to stick to it every time, but make sure you mention where you work or who your client is, your goal is, their time commitment and their compensation.

Try something like:

Hi, I’m [firstname] and I’m working for [x company] today. We’re trying to get some feedback on [our new feature]. If you have about [x minutes] to chat, I can offer you a [gift card/incentive].

Be sure to be friendly, but not pushy. Give people the chance to opt out or come back later. Pro tip: I always take a piece of paper with time slots printed so that people can sign up for a later time.  

The location you choose has a major impact on how many people you talk to and the quality of your results. Here are some tips for picking a good spot:

  • Pick a public place where there will be a high volume of people and make sure you get permission to be there. Aim to be visible but not in the way. A table next to the entrance works well.
  • Try to pick a place that you think your target audience will be. For instance, if you’re interested in talking to lawyers, pick a coffee shop near a big law office.
  • Look for stable wi-fi and plentiful wall plugs.
  • Regardless of where you choose, stake out the location ahead of the research session so you can plan accordingly.

A few limitations

There’s no doubt that intercepting people in public is a great way to get a high volume of participants quickly. Talking to the general population, however, is best reserved for situations when you have a product or service that doesn’t require specific knowledge, contexts, or outlooks.

If you’re doing a usability test, you could argue that whatever you build should be easy enough for anyone to figure out, so you can still get feedback. Just be aware that you may miss out on valuable insights that are specific to your target audience.

Let’s say you’re working on a piece of tax software. A risk is that you end up talking to someone who has a spouse that handles all the finances, or miss finding a labelling error that only tax accountants would know to report.

To avoid this, I always recommend asking a few identifying questions at the beginning of each session so you can analyse results appropriately. You don’t always need to screen people out, but you can choose how to prioritise their feedback in the analysis stage.

Context also matters. If you usability test a rideshare app on a laptop in a coffee shop, but most people will use the app on their phones on a crowded street, you may get misleading feedback.

Watch for bias when user-testing in a cafe. Photo via Unsplash

You should also be aware that you may run into bias by intercepting all your participants from one location. Think about it: the people that are visiting an upscale coffee shop in a business centre on a weekday are likely to be pretty different than the people who are stopping at a gas station for coffee in the middle of the night. Again, try to choose your intercept location based on your target audience and consider going to a few locations to get variety.

Keep in mind that only a certain type of person is going to respond positively and take the time to give you feedback. Most people will be caught off guard, and may be suspicious or unsure what to expect. You won’t have much time to give participants context or build rapport, so be especially conscious of making them feel comfortable.

Some final tips:

  • Set expectations clearly. Tell participants right away how long you’ll talk to them and how you’ll compensate them for their time. Be clear about what questions you’ll ask or tasks you’ll present and what they need to do.
  • Pay extra attention to participant comfort. Give them the option to leave at any time and put extra emphasis on the fact that you’re there to gather feedback, not judge them or their abilities. Try to record the sessions or not take notes the whole time, so you can make eye contact and read body language.
  • Remember standard rules of research: don’t lead participants, get comfortable with silence, and ask questions that participants can easily answer. Be extra careful asking about sensitive topics such as health or money. In fact, I don’t recommend intercepting people if you need to talk about very sensitive topics.

Remote and unmoderated studies

Taking the researcher out of the session is another proven way to reduce the time and cost of research. This is achieved through running remote and unmoderated research sessions.

Getting started

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Traditional research assumes that a researcher is directly conducting sessions with participants, or moderating the sessions. Unmoderated research just means that the participants respond without the researcher present. Common methods include diary studies, surveys or trying out predetermined tasks in a prototype.

The core benefit is that people can participate simultaneously so you can collect many responses in a short amount of time. It’s often easier to recruit too, because there are no geographic limitations and participants don’t have to be available at a specific time.

You plan unmoderated research much like you do moderated research: set your research goal, select an appropriate method to answer your open questions, determine participants, and craft your research plan. The difference in unmoderated sessions is that you need to be especially careful about setting expectations and providing clear directions, because you won’t be there during the session. Trial runs are especially important in unmoderated sessions to catch unclear wording and confusing tasks.

You can also conduct remote research, which means that you’re not physically in the same place as your participant. You can use video conferencing tools to see each other’s faces and share screens. Remote sessions are planned in a similar vein to in-person sessions, but you can often reach a broader set of people when there are no geographic limits.

A few limitations

Any time you conduct sessions remotely or choose unmoderated methods, you run the risk of missing out on observing context or reading body language. With unmoderated sessions, can’t dig deeper when someone has an interesting piece of feedback. That’s still better than not collecting data, but you should take it into consideration when you’re analysing your data and making conclusions.

Low fidelity prototypes

If you want to invest less effort upfront, and iterate quickly, low fidelity prototypes are a good option.

In this scenario, you forego fully functional prototypes or live sites/applications and instead use digitally linked wireframes or static images.

You can even use paper prototypes, where you sketch a screen on paper and simulate the interaction by switching out which piece of paper is shown.

Getting started

Low fidelity prototypes, especially paper, are less time consuming to make than digital prototypes, which makes them inexpensive to produce and easy to iterate. This sort of rapid cycling is especially useful when you’re in the very early conceptual stages and trying to sort out gut reactions.

You run a usability test with a low fidelity prototype just like you would run any other usability test. You come up with tasks and scenarios that cover your key questions, recruit participants, and observe as people perform those tasks.

A few limitations

For this guerrilla technique, you have to be especially careful to ask participants to think aloud and not lead or bias them, because there can be a huge gap in their expectations and yours. For paper prototypes in particular, a moderator must be present to simulate the interactions. I recommend in-person sessions for any sort of test with low fidelity prototypes.

Keep in mind that you can get false feedback from low-fidelity wireframe testing. It can be difficult for participants to imagine what would really happen, and they may get stuck on particular elements or give falsely positive feedback based on what they imagine. Take this into consideration when analysing the results, and be sure that you conduct multiple rounds of iterative research and include high-fidelity prototypes or full beta tests in your long-term research plan.

Wrapping up

When in doubt about the results of any guerilla research test, I recommend running another study to see if you get the same results.

You can execute the exact same test plan, or even try to answer the same question with a complementary method. If you arrive at similar conclusions, you can feel more confident, and if not, you’ll know that you need to keep digging. When you’re researching guerilla style, you can always find more time to head back to the jungle for more sessions.

Take a look at my article linked below for tips on reducing scope, and the best times to use guerilla methods. Happy researching!

Further reading

Written by
Amanda Stockwell
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