Reflection #5 – Moderation

This week, I was given a script and told to moderate a usability study. This is my favorite part of the whole research process: actually getting to talk to a user and watch them use the product. It’s the culmination of all of the prework and meetings, and because of that I make sure usability is a true event for me, my team, and the team I am working with. The assignment didn’t require that I write a script, but I did need to moderate and record a sessions with an actual user investigating the Papa John’s website and ordering experience.

How did it go? Fairly well, I would say. I was more nervous during this session than I ever had been during a session at work. And I’ve dealt with a lot of interesting and stressful situations (I’d recommend checking out Tedesco and Tranquada’s “The Moderator’s Survival Guide” for a sampling of some of the weird stuff that can happen during moderation). I stumbled a bit on my words toward the beginning of the session, but once things got started everything seemed to fall in place. After all, I was working with an acquaintance and not a total stranger to complete the task at hand.

One thing I was surprised about was how a user can go off track during a session. It happens a lot during my work, but I was surprised to see it happen for this set of tasks. I tried to make sure not to jump in too soon, and I am glad I did because the participant was able to correct himself and get back to the task at hand without any of my help. To that end, I was really cognizant of staying quiet to let the participant speak his mind, and not to say anything that might hint at what the participant needed to do. Since I have little experience with the Papa John’s site myself, it was fairly easy to remain unbiased and let the session go with the flow while keeping it on task and within a reasonable time.

The whole process is really an exercise in a combination of acting and improvisation; you have the script in front of you that you need to follow to remain consistent, but you will also need to put some emotion/feeling behind it so it doesn’t feel dry or just read. And if things go off track, you must be able to think on your feet and figure out how to complete the session while making the participant feel as comfortable as possible. It’s partly art, partly science, but all about working with people.

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