The 5 stages of coping… with user research

It may sound old fashioned, but there are still plenty of companies out there that have never done usability testing. They aren’t all dinosaurs, either – there are plenty of new start-ups popping-up who know they need to “do UX” but don’t know where to start.

If you land one of these as a client, you might find it useful to refer to the “five stages of coping”. Although it was originally created as a model for the grieving process, it actually maps pretty well onto any jarring-change-in-perspective the world demands from you, usability testing included. See if you can recognise any of your clients’ comments below. Your job, of course, is to ease them through to step 5:

1. Denial

  • “We can ignore that particular participant because they’re not from our target user-base”
  • “We can ignore this one because they’re an idiot. We don’t want people like that using our site”
  • “This one’s just a weirdo, an outlier, the next might be better”

2. Anger

  • “You’re moderating the sessions wrong!”
  • “You’re asking leading questions!”
  • “This research isn’t scientific anyway!”
  • “They can’t be expected to understand business reasons why the design is like that!”
  • “Who is to blame here?”
  • The designs were perfect in the wireframes, it’s other-department’s fault!”

3. Bargaining

  • “Maybe we can solve all of these problems with this one tiny design change here.”
  • “This is all being completely redesigned in a few months anyway, so we can make do with some interim fixes, right?”

4. Depression

  • “It’s never going to be perfect.”
  • “There’s too much political inertia to improve things properly.”
  • “Whatever designs we produce, they’ll get implemented badly because of our developers / marketing department / that one person I dislike in that other team, so what’s the point?”

5. Acceptance

  • “It’s going to be okay.”

One word of advice I’d give for running usability testing with this kind of client is to ensure the right kind of person is in the viewing room with them. Many agencies will normally put someone relatively junior in the viewing room to take notes and timestamp events. With a client that’s new to usability testing, I’d recommend having an experienced facilitator in the viewing room. It can get a bit heated as they move through those five stages!