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I’m sure you’ve heard the expression 'Never work with children or animals' right? Well, after you’ve read this lot, I reckon you’ll want to add participants, facilitators and even clients to this list. 

You see, since my last blog I’ve spent a few weeks “playing journalist” sourcing weird, wonderful and downright bizarre stories from the UX (User Experience) Community. 

The idea came to me while I was telling a friend how I had to sit throughout a whole study earlier this year in Norway, trying not to crack up every time a participant had to fill in his name on a form. Thing is, he was doing it with such a straight face that for a long time I thought it really was his name.  Which it obviously couldn’t have been. 

So it got me thinking that there must be other amusing or even downright weird experiences that my fellow UX practitioners might like to share with me... and share they did! OK, some took a little cajoling but I got there in the end. 

They’re all anonymous and I hope you at least find them interesting, even if they might not tickle you as much as they tickled me.

Just plain funny 

A friend of mine was running a study and invited the first participant in. She allowed him to get himself comfortable and told him that she’d be back in a moment. When she returned, he was sat in the chair, completely naked, erm, waiting for her...

 

She also had another experience where a similar thing happened. Only this time when she returned, she found the participant had exited through an open window but had left his Sainsbury’s bags behind!

My favourite cock up was one time we had somebody come in for a usability test and thought it was a job interview!" 

I was facilitating a session for my company, and I lightly commented to the user that they’d be using the mouse, and they obviously know how to use a mouse, don’t they? And they said yes. At which point, they stood up, picked up the mouse and ran it across the screen!”

Lab Rage

5. “I’ve had several classics where Creative Directors have designed beautiful but completely unusable websites and screamed at users behind the one way mirrors. They would be screaming that those users were stupid - only to be told that in fact, they had designed a site that was rubbish and unusable!”

 

6. “I once saw a fight where the facilitator told a user they were wrong, and we had to stop the testing as the facilitator was so awful and offensive to the participant.” 

7. “Once, when microphones were left on from the viewing room, my clients were slagging off their boss who happened to be in the lab … and therefore heard every single word!” 

Lab love

8 “I was once in a session where a user was chatting up a facilitator, who was struggling to stop the flirtation, which was awkward.”

9. “A colleague of mine found it really difficult to get rid of a participant who kept chatting her up after the session. He just wouldn’t leave and she really wasn’t interested. It was really funny to watch from the viewing room because she was being too polite and he really wasn’t getting the message.” 

Focus group fun 

10. “I was running a focus group for a client who needed insight from 18-20 year olds. After a period of time, I noticed a lot of eye contact and half way through the session, they all started copping off together. Furthermore, they all ended up leaving in pairs!”

 

11. “The closest thing I can think of was when I had a woman turn up for a testing session last year who appeared to be stoned and/or drunk. It didn’t help that it was quite a dull subject - looking at printer consumables - but she slurred, yawned and sighed her way through the first part before nodding off during one of the exercises".

"She was a classic example of someone who was only there for the money, and she couldn’t wait to get out of there fast enough.  And to be honest I was pleased to get rid of her as well”.

12. “I’ve had similar experiences before when I’ve run evening focus group sessions. Professional focus group participants know how to bluff their way through recruiters and screeners, but you can always spot them because when they turn up for the session they head straight for the booze in the drinks fridges".

"They then sit at the back of the focus group contributing as little as possible while necking their drinks and looking for a way to get the incentives as quick as possible. This is one of the many reasons why I refuse to do focus groups now.” 

Not quite so funny 

13. “I once had a participant who went into anaphylactic shock after eating contaminated snacks in the observation studio (not that funny!)” 

14. “I once had someone who was so nervous when they arrived for the session they threw up in the bin.”  

 

15. “ An old mate reminded me of a great story. He was doing user testing for high net worth folks. People with more than 150k of assets for a bank. He had to leave to test lab and fix something. The participant knew he was being filmed".

"When the facilitator left the room, the participant went into the facilitators jacket and nicked his wallet. The facilitator returned unaware. The participant finished the test, took his incentive money and left. The facilitator found out when analysing the tapes, reported it to the police. The guy was found, fired from his job and did six months community service!!! True story!”

Laughing and learning

 

16. “One story that does come to mind is when I was moderating a session in Spain. It was day three of testing, we tested five people per day. I was in the room with the participant, and behind a one way mirror was the interpreter and the observers (clients and another consultant)".

"We were on our last legs after three days of testing. I asked how the participant would pronounce the brand and he not only got it wrong (instead naming another popular service of our client) but also said it, rightly so, as if it was in Spanish". 

"It was funny but our tiredness must have amplified that... I was trying to keep a poker face and taking deep breaths trying to carry on with the session... While I was doing that, with a little lag, just as the interpreter finished describing what happened I heard the room next door explode with laughter... At this point I could no longer hold it together and burst out laughing too. The participant was confused as he didn't understand what was so funny?" 

"While we can't always prevent situations like these, we can make sure we follow the MRS (Market Research Society) guidelines which tell us that we must inform participants that they are being observed. It's also good to brief observers about making noises that can affect the participant. After all, looking after participants is one of our duties as moderators...”

Any stories to share? 

And how about you? Do you have any funny, weird or wonderful stories to share from the UX labs or just in general? I’d really like to be tickled some more, so feel free to comment with your own thoughts and/or experiences. 

Oh, and as for the name of that participant back in Norway? Evil Groin. Of course.

Leah Ryz

Published 28 February, 2014 by Leah Ryz

Leah Ryz is Global & UK User Experience Consultant at Royal Sun & Alliance and a contributor to Econsultancy. You can connect with Leah on Twitter, LinkedIn or Google Plus

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