Product Managers often understand the value of user research and regular testing in theory but may face practical challenges in implementing it.

Even as user research’s value becomes more and more evident, there are still skeptical individuals and organizations that feel like they know their users. Sometimes they align their thoughts to the Henry Ford quote, “If I asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.”

UX research should have designers carefully observing their users, along with targeted inquiry and thoughtful analysis. Observation often helps designers see the interface from the users’ perspective.

The usability testing point is to discover unexpected problems that the average users lack in insider know-how about the system is “supposed” to work face.

Stakeholders dubious about whether they should trust findings from usability- tests often assert that test participant observations are not entirely reliable or that there aren’t enough test participants to take the results seriously.

In contrast to this belief, usability testing is a task carried out with a small number of participants without asking what they want.

In many cases, stakeholders deprioritize user observations because of the lack of time and resources. While others don’t understand the method or lack enough experience in it. By clearly explaining usability testing methods and communicating findings in a compelling format, one can bridge stakeholder understanding gaps.

In this blog, we look into the different ways of handling stakeholder skepticism to substantiate the following facts.

  • A large number of users is not necessary to test your design. It can be done with just five persons, no matter how large your user base.
  • You don’t need a fully-fledged prototype to get answers during user testing.
  • User research provides qualitative insights that complement the quantitive data from market research.

Preparing Stakeholders with Proactive Explanation

UX Designers must explain their research method before conducting usability sessions. Clarity and transparency are always better than defending UX research methods post-performance.

The ways designers can achieve this is by,

  • Sharing videos, articles, observation reports.
  • Providing evidence-based notes on usability tests, including answers to,
    • How users react?
    • What they do and their approach?
    • What are their body language, facial expressions, and tone while interacting with an interface’s different components?
  • Performing regular exploratory work, contextual inquiries, careful observation of users, and keeping stakeholders in the loop.
  • Prepare stakeholders for surprising findings of a product.
  • Convince stakeholders quickly discover common issues that need to be improved for the design rather than repeating tests to check the validity of observations.

Access to Direct User Responses

Many stakeholders believe that usability test reports are biased and opinionated (by the researcher who prepared the report).

In their own words or a video, direct feedback from first-hand users always comes through loud and clear. Even recording live sessions can help stakeholders understand the end-user’s perception of the interface. Feedback develops user empathy for their struggles with the system and shows that the researcher is not leading or influencing users in any way.

Even if one user participates in your usability test, you need to find natural and cost-effective fixes for the problem unearthed by him/her. UX designers have to check for an issue’s criticality level and perform a further investigation before committing to a design change.

Convince that the Qualitative Data from Users Complements Quantitative Market Research Data

Market research is often conducted around data that we already know and not the opposite. Collecting qualitative feedback from real users helps uncover truths that are the most unexpected called ‘insights.’ These help you delve further, understand the why or the exceptions behind facts, and improve customer experience and product value.

Amazon is an excellent example of this. They have succeeded because they collect and analyze enormous amounts of data. But, they always compare the data with customer insights to add credibility to it.

Check Independent Data Sources to Estimate Frequency

To estimate the frequency and depth of a problem (something which stakeholders would be interested in), you have to pick data sources such as usage analytics or support requests.

You can set up analytics for a particular interface feature like sorting or check out frequently used. A quick check of how many users use the feature and how many face issues can help translate it into the value addition to stakeholders.

The Question about Enough Participants to Prove a Problem

A common stakeholder concern is over a small number of people experiencing a problem that doesn’t necessarily make it a common issue.

They believe that these participants could be “outliers” who have unusual expectations or habits that may not necessarily be common to a larger group of diverse users.

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According to Norman Nielsen, a leading user research company, only 15 users will uncover 100% usability issues. Additionally, only a third is required to discover 80% of these issues.

This statistic is accurate for several main customer groups as well.

Addressing Objections that Participants aren’t Representative

Stakeholders often raise objections that test participants are not representative of “real” users. This issue can be tackled by sharing in advance how you plan to recruit them.

Using analytical tools like Ethnio can help target specific types of users for independent sections of your product.

Carefully define the essential characteristics of your target audience and share their candidate profiles with stakeholders. You can also reference personas. You must ensure stakeholders’ active involvement from the planning stages of the study until the final report.


Convincing stakeholders about usability testing is not a cakewalk, but once you achieve this feat, it can make your designs more credible and workflows smoother. This step can help identify serious issues that prevent users from completing a task, cause great frustration, or directly impact your key design goals.

The key is to get to the reason why they are skeptical about changing the narrative.

Once you get to the heart of the reason, you can establish a useful dialog to get them on board. A lot of times, people don’t understand what user research is. It isn’t asking people what they want but instead observing, understanding their workflow/process, identifying pain/pleasure points, etc.

More importantly, UX designers need to,

  • Understand why stakeholders are skeptical.
  • Use facts to quell their skepticism.
  • Remind stakeholders that UX research is a journey, and cultural changes take time.

Connect with our UX Design community at Radiant Digital for more useful tips on handling skeptic stakeholders.