If you follow our blog or Twitter account, you may have noticed that we are running a series of blogs and case studies with some of our clients to document some of the work we do, as well as the importance of finding the right participants to take part in your research or testing sessions. This week we’re publishing a case study with the Department for International Trade (DIT, formerly UKTI), all about how to find the perfect users for niche usability research.

Our recruitment team has been working closely with the Service Design team at DIT, including UX designer David McGirr, over the last couple of years. We recently approached David to ask a few questions about this ongoing project, which has been focussed on gathering feedback from business people in order to improve the services offered by the DIT and their digital platforms.

Currently, the Service Design team is working to understand how their users react to the services offered and if they understand what it is, who it is for and how they can help to improve their businesses. “And, ultimately, how we can start improving,” says David McGirr.

“Our goal is to help companies move to the UK and start trading. We aim to do this by providing self-serve research information and for those more advanced in their journey we want to provide access to some of our real-world services that the Department for International Trade provide.”

Understanding the user to improve the service

As part of the project, the team are currently running usability lab-based sessions with users being asked to complete certain tasks within specific scenarios. “We’ve also been asking them to compare different writing styles and the way content is structured,” David adds.

People for Research has been working with the DIT team to source the participants taking part in these niche usability research sessions, and have now provided the Service Design team at the DIT with over 30 participants, over six usability lab sessions. “We’ve worked closely with our project team who provide us with an initial list, which we then whittle down to a short list which is validated by a short interview carried out with the participant by PFR.”

The importance of finding the right users

The website states that research must involve all the different kinds of people who may need to use the service being researched or tested, including those who have disabilities or use assistive technologies, have limited digital skills or poor literacy and those who may need help to use the service.

“We’ve set a tough brief for PFR – the type of user we’re targeting are senior leaders in SMEs who are thinking about moving their business to the UK. These are, by their very nature, overseas, so we’re using a proxy of individuals who work in a company that is originally from an overseas country and they should also be foreign nationals who have moved here in the last couple of years.”

According to David, it is absolutely key that the research sessions happen with participants from this specific niche list because it is about how a business from overseas plans to move to the UK. “What they are worried about, what they don’t understand that in most cases would be straightforward for UK nationals with a business.”

In order to meet the challenge, our B2B recruitment team at People for Research have been employing our free find process, which can be broken down into the following steps:

1. Accurate planning
Let’s start with the essentials: in this case, a good brief that communicated exactly what the Service Design team needed and allowed PFR to plan the recruitment properly. The brief should include information about who you are looking for, what you are testing, where and when the sessions are taking place, as well as how and why you are testing – this is a good place to start.

2. Research
If working on a project or recruiting a specific audience for the first time, it’s essential for our team to have some time to do basic research and understand the industry and the people being recruited. Niche usability research takes time to investigate fully and to create a plan of action.

3. Clear documentation
It’s important for both researchers and recruiters to agree on a final version of the recruitment documents, as well as iron out the content that should be used to contact potential participants either via direct message or via advertising.

4. Engaging with potential users
The next step is to approach potential participants. Working towards the DIT’s requirements, one of the most effective tools we regularly use is LinkedIn – with this social platform, the key is to curate the content used to approach the potential participants.

We have found that investing in this kind of bespoke approach usually translates into engaged participants and a reduced number of drop-outs or misrecruits.

Niche usability research: surprising conclusions

Running regular niche usability research sessions means that the DIT has been able to continuously improve their service based on the feedback provided by the participants. “These sessions tend to happen every two or three weeks, so we can quickly check our changes and iterations work.”

As part of the conversation with David McGirr, we wanted to know if the participants recruited by PFR have provided not only useful, but also unexpected feedback. “Yes, loads – I think the most surprising is that we forget that the UK is really quite an important market and business hub with access to a global market. This was reinforced time and time again, businesses move to the UK because of access to a global market.”

“Also, perhaps not so surprising, but important: overseas nationals have no concept of our geography and our regions. They understand roughly where some of our major cities are, but almost none of our 30 users know where, say, the Midlands is. Given that, internally, we group location attributes by region, this becomes a problem when explaining to our users. We’re still working on getting our colleagues to recognise cities are more useful ways of describing locations that by region.”

To sum it up, these are the steps to take into consideration when recruiting for niche usability research with business participants:

+ Make sure you fully understand the requirements of the research and the six essentials that make up a good brief: who, what, where, when, how and why.

+ Even if you are running the whole process (recruitment and research) in-house, a good brief is always helpful – it makes sure the first goal (recruiting the right users) is clear, even when different teams are working on the same project.

+ Before investing time recruiting the participants, make sure you have the details down and everyone agrees on the audience that is being targeted.

+ Allow time for niche usability research. This is especially important when working with an external recruiter, they need time to work out how best to communicate with the potential participants, and how to identify them.

+ Narrow down the places where you plan to look for your participants. If you are using social media to find your users, for example, it’s unlikely that business owners will respond to a Facebook message about research.



Maria Santos, Head of Marketing and Data Protection

If you would like to find out more about our in-house participant recruitment service for user testing or market research get in touch on 0117 921 0008 or

At People for Research, we recruit participants for UX and usability testing and market research. We work with award winning UX agencies across the UK and partner up with a number of end clients who are leading the way with in-house user experience and insight.