Choosing the Right Participants: Enhancing Your HCD Research for More Effective Design

Choosing the Right Participants: Enhancing Your HCD Research for More Effective Design

When designing products or services, businesses need to understand their target audience's needs and experiences to stay competitive. That's why human-centred design (HCD) research has become an essential part of product or service design strategy. However, conducting effective HCD research requires choosing the right participants. Selecting participants who represent the target audience is crucial for gaining meaningful and useful insights. But how do businesses go about choosing the right participants? This article will explore the importance of participant recruitment in HCD research and provide practical tips for selecting the right participants.

Choosing the right participant for research is essential for the success of any study. It ensures that the participants are representative of the target audience and that their demographics, psychographics, needs, behaviours, and motivations are understood. By selecting the right participants, the following benefits can be achieved:

  1. A large enough sample size can be obtained to represent the population sufficiently, resulting in more accurate results.
  2. The need to collect additional data from different participants can be avoided, which saves time and money in the long run.
  3. The data collected is valid and representative of the population being studied, which helps avoid incorrect conclusions and biases in research results.

If these factors are not considered while choosing participants, the risk of designing products and services that may not apply to the target audience increases. This could result in low adoption rates, negative user experiences, and ultimately financial loss. Moreover, if the participants do not represent the diversity of the target audience, the research results will be biased, leading to the creation of products and services that are not inclusive.

When it comes to finding the right participants for your research study, it can be challenging to identify individuals who are engaged, reliable and provide meaningful feedback. Let's take the "Spindle Design" study as an example. This research, carried out by Spindle Design, aimed to understand women's decision-making and choice frameworks around pregnancy avoidance and contraceptive use within the reproductive journey.

These are the few key steps that you can take to ensure that you are recruiting the right participants.

1. Clarify Your Target Audience

Defining your target audience based on the demographics of your business is crucial to ensure that you gather insights that align with your research objectives. For example, Spindle Design focused on women of reproductive age, between 18 and 45 years old, in urban, peri-urban and rural areas within Nairobi and Kisumu counties. These areas offered a wide and diverse population, which was essential for the study's success. 

By defining their target audience, Spindle Design was able to tailor their research methods and recruitment criteria to gather insights specific to their audience's behaviour and attitudes towards contraceptive use.

2. Define Recruitment Criteria

To ensure that your research project yields the desired insights, you need to define the recruitment criteria for your participants. This will help you to target the right participants and to ensure that their characteristics align with your research objectives. 

In the case of Spindle Design, they considered various characteristics such as household income, tribe, education, location, age, marital status, contraceptive use, disabilities, religion, and the number of children they had. By doing so, they were able to recruit participants who represented a diverse range of backgrounds and perspectives, providing a more comprehensive understanding of their target audience.

3. Use Selective Sampling

Selective sampling involves choosing participants who meet certain criteria that are relevant to your research objectives. This technique allows you to focus your efforts on recruiting participants who are most likely to provide valuable insights for your study. 

Spindle Design had a broad range of characteristics they were working with based on their research protocol document. They started with a possible sample of 409 women and men from Nairobi and Kisumu who they whittled down in subsequent immersions. They selected areas within Nairobi and Kisumu to offer maximum diversity in terms of population size, religions, ethnicity, language, literacy rates, family planning awareness, levels of rural, urban and peri-urban settlements, and other cultural and socio-economic factors. By using selective sampling, Spindle Design was able to recruit a diverse range of participants that provided valuable insights for their research.

4. Involve Stakeholders

Stakeholder involvement is crucial in ensuring that your research is relevant and applicable to your target audience. Involving different stakeholders within the ecosystem of decision-making can help you to gain a better understanding of your target audience and the factors that influence their behaviour. 

Spindle Design involved different stakeholders, including influencers such as husbands, brothers, and boyfriends, mothers-in-law, enablers such as medical practitioners, the Ministry of Health (MOH), and Non-governmental organizations dealing with contraceptive education. By involving these stakeholders, Spindle Design was able to gain a deeper understanding of the cultural and social factors that influence women's contraceptive use in Kenya.

5. Work with Fixers

Fixers are individuals who can help you to identify and recruit participants for your research study. They undergo a short training or screening process to understand the objectives of the project and the type of participants you are looking for. 

Spindle Design worked with fixers who came from the locations they were researching and had easy access to a broad range of people. These fixers had ties and reputations in those communities, which made their preliminary identification and screening of respondents more likely to be considered. By working with fixers, Spindle Design was able to recruit participants who were representative of their target audience.

6.  Conduct Interviews and Co-creation Sessions

Interviews and co-creation sessions are important methods of gathering insights from participants. In-person, in-depth interviews, focus group discussions, and virtual expert interviews are all effective ways of gathering data. 

Spindle Design conducted interviews in homes, workplaces, businesses, public places, and open spaces. Based on the experiences of Immersion One, they centralized the interview locations for Immersions Two and Three and had the respondents come to them. By conducting interviews and co-creation sessions in a variety of locations, Spindle Design was able to gain a comprehensive understanding of their target audience's behaviour and attitudes towards contraceptive use.

7. Ensure Ethical Considerations

When conducting research, it is important to ensure that participants' rights and dignity are respected. Following the informed consent process is crucial to ensure that participants are fully informed about the study and voluntarily agree to participate. Ethical considerations also include protecting the confidentiality and privacy of participants and ensuring that the data collected is used only for research purposes.

Spindle Design ensured ethical considerations by obtaining informed consent from participants before the study began. They also informed participants of their rights, including the right to withdraw from the study at any time. Additionally, Spindle Design ensured the confidentiality and privacy of their participants by using pseudonyms and not disclosing any identifiable information. By ensuring ethical considerations, Spindle Design was able to conduct a study that respected the dignity and rights of their participants.-

If you're a business looking to design products or services that meet the needs of your customers, then recruiting the right participants is essential for conducting successful human-centred design research. At Spindle Design, we can help you recruit the right people who will yield actionable insights so you can make more informed decisions. Reach out to us via email at, and let's work together to create products and services that your users will love.