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User Feedback At Trade Shows

User feedback is so important to the design process, but sometimes it can be difficult to incorporate for a variety of reasons. The people you need may be too busy or otherwise unavailable for some reason. Or maybe there are budget concerns.

What to do?

Sometimes you have to get creative and look for opportunities that fall outside of traditional methodologies. One such opportunity is the trade show. Trade shows can be a great place to get feedback, but there are a few important rules to follow.

  • First, set realistic expectations. Recognize that trade show attendees are typically busy and preoccupied — so set your expectations accordingly.  Unless you have a room or area that is completely quiet, and you have set up meetings ahead of time, odds are you won’t be able to do a formal usability test. But you can still get good input.
  • Second, limit the time to 10 – 15 minutes, ask a few open-ended questions, then let the user take the lead at exploring your website or application.
  • Third, provide some kind of incentive as a show of appreciation. Even though the sessions are short, you still want your participants to know you value their time. A $20 coffee card is perfect.

Recently we conducted user feedback sessions on a newly launched e-commerce website at an industry trade show — and gained valuable insights that helped inform our post-launch enhancement list. Because we let users interact with the site with no initial task or direction, we received a wide range of input. But we also gained valuable insights that we weren’t able to get when we were testing on an early pre-launch version of the site.

For instance, many of the participants started with a keyword search. A customer service rep who sat in on the interviews interpreted this to mean that the participants weren’t seeing the main navigation. But when asked, they indicated they were familiar with either part numbers or product names and preferred to start with a keyword search. (A good reason to have a trained usability expert facilitating the conversations even when informal … it’s easy to draw conclusions that may not be correct.)

For more information about conducting usability interviews at trade shows, check out this UPA article.

Damian Conrad