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Free-listing

Free-listing is a brainstorming technique for identifying users’ knowledge and feelings about a topic. Like Guerrilla Usability Testing, Free-listing is an economical way to gather a large amount of data. It can provide insight into users’ mental models, culture, vocabularies, tasks, and goals. It can also inform content structure.

Responses can be analyzed for frequency patterns — how common items are listed, how often the same items are mentioned by the same participant — that could suggest the need for additional qualitative research, such as Ethnography.

Description

Schedule Time & Gather Materials

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Schedule Time:

  • Time: 3-5 minutes per user; about 2-3 hours total
  • Time to Analyze: 4 Hours
Gather Materials

Gather Materials:

  • Pens
  • Sheets of lined paper
  • Spreadsheet

Carry Out This Method

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  1. The number of participants needed for the test typically ranges from 20-30. This, combined with its quick execution time, makes it a good candidate for a Guerrilla Usability Test. Feel free to recruit friends and family that could be considered part of your target user base.
  2. Set the ground rules. Tell each participant they have 3 minutes to write their responses to your question, and they will receive compensation for their time. Typically, $5 – or a coupon or gift card of similar value – is a good incentive.
  3. Ask participants to list as many things as they can about a topic selected for your research, or ask how many different ways they could use a relevant item.
  4. After each participant has finished, ask if they can think of any other items similar to one of the items listed. This is a prompt to allow the participant to create associations between your topic and topics of personal importance.
  5. If a participant has listed an unusual item, ask them to clarify. Outlier responses can sometimes yield interesting insights.
  6. Ask participants which item best describes how they feel about the topic or what is their favorite item on the list.
  7. After you have gathered feedback from all participants, conduct an Affinity Diagramming session to analyze the data. Present your conclusions and recommendations to stakeholders.

Try These Tips

  • Free-listing can be used as an effective precursor to a Card Sort or as a companion to the creation of a Controlled Vocabulary.
  • Conducting one Free-listing study early in the design process and then performing another one later with a product’s primary persona can provide a useful contrast for designers and stakeholders.

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