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Run Group Think Alouds

3-5 stories or quotes about your ideas

DFA UC Davis
May 21
3-5 stories or quotes about your ideas
May 21


To learn about how a user uses your mockup, and to understand their thought process during use. 

Testing through think-alouds can help you get answers to your questions without actually asking the question. They can provide direct insight into how users think when using your mockup. Think-alouds prevent incomplete or incorrect accounts of how your mockup can be used, and gives direct data on ongoing thinking processes.

A think-aloud is a method that requires users to verbalize what they’re thinking and doing as they complete a task. It is often used in understanding problems, but can be equally useful in understanding and testing the validity of your design.

A think-aloud is best performed with team members taking on various roles during the process. There are three primary roles. These roles are:

The moderator will be the one guiding the user through testing your mockup. While moderating, it is important to find a good balance between quietly observing, and having just enough dialogue to keep the user going. Moderators are essentially responsible for getting users to answer questions without explicitly asking them.

As a moderator, it is important to not talk too much, and to not lead users. You want to get unbiased feedback. If your user isn’t talking, you can say, “Please keep talking”. Avoid saying “Tell me what you think”, you don’t want an opinion or evaluation of their thoughts.

The recorder will take notes as the moderator guides the user through testing. The recorder will also be responsible for operating whatever equipment (audio or video) your team decides to use to record the session.

As a general rule of thumb in note taking, it better to over record than under record. Take notes on everything! While note-taking methods vary, your notes should track the following three pieces of information:

  1. The observation This is every single thing the user says and does. This may be the user picking up and looking over your mock up, or simply saying, “hmm”. 
  2. Timestamp The timestamp indicates when the observation occurred. A simple way of doing  this can be marking the time of the observation, and indicating the duration of  the observation. 
You can use tags to mark keywords that describe your observation. For example, if a user is filling up a glass of water, for easy reference, you can mark this observation with the tag ‘water’.
When operating recording equipment, be sure to check to check that the equipment is working throughout the testing session (though inconspicuously!).

The transcriber’s role is to operate whatever equipment (audio or video) your team decides to use to record the session. They will also take the audio or video from the testing session, and type out verbatim what the user said. This includes silence, any interruptions, or even fillers like “errm”, and “hmmm”.

When operating recording equipment, be sure to check to check that the equipment is working throughout the testing session (though inconspicuously!).



Pick the right user. 
Think about who is using your product or service. It’s essential to pick the right users, and to understand what their behaviors are, and why they are using your product in the first place. The point of this testing session is to see how your design is used; test subjects who are not representative of your end user may provide information that is inconsistent with what your real user would provide.

Once you have determined who your user is, you will need to screen for testing participants that encompass the characteristics of your end user. In usability testing, it is generally recommended to get about 5 participants  for qualitative studies, and at least 20 for quantitative studies. However, if you get the chance, it doesn’t hurt to get more participants.

Design your test scenarios.
Think about the context in which your mockup is intended to be used, and the goals you want to achieve in this testing session. Testing scenarios can be very broad and exploratory, or can be specific, like testing out a particular feature of a mock up. In addition, depending on your mock-up, you will need to determine how many testing scenarios you want to cover in your testing session.

A fully designed test scenario includes an introduction to the test scenario, and a list of observations or key questions.

Determine roles.
Split your team up according the roles discussed in the background. If your team has more than three people, you can double up team members as recorders and transcribers. However, the testing session will work most effectively with one moderator, so be sure to only have one moderator.

Determine the timeline of your testing session. In general, limit testing to 30 minutes. It’s long enough to test key scenarios without exceeding attention span. The following table is a general breakdown of each step of the testing session. These steps are further discussed below.
  • Introduction 1-2 min.
  • Warm-up 3-5 min.
  • Testing 15-20 min.
  • Review 5-8 min.

Introduce the testing session to your user. In testing, you want to first and foremost make your user comfortable, and you want to build rapport with each participant.

The warmup is essentially an opportunity to “train” your users, and to get them familiar with the think-aloud method. Familiarizing your users with thinking aloud helps them to stick to verbalizing their thoughts instead of interpreting them.You want to give them a practice task not too different from the testing session you have planned.

Complete testing of your mockup
You should start your testing session with instructions. The instructions to a think-aloud are pretty straight forward- Perform a task and say out loud what comes to your mind.

REMEMBER: If the participant forgets to say every thought, remind them to speak through everything that goes through their mind.

Review think-aloud with user 
Review the think-aloud with the user as soon after the actual think-aloud as possible. Ask your user if their was anything peculiar about the process to check for obvious usability errors, and to validate that the scenario you designed was representative of actually using your design. In addition, if they said something insightful during the session, delve deeper into that thought. Keep pushing them to talk more about where that thought came from.
REMEMBER: If user was unclear or inarticulate during certain parts of the testing session, ask them to elaborate on their actions and thoughts.

After reviewing your audio/video, the transcriber will begin transcribing the testing sessions.
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