How to Involve Stakeholders in User Research

Here’s Smashing’s no-excuses, tried-and-true guide to building low-budget observation rooms

By Lulu Xiao, Senior Strategist

User research is key when designing the user experience (UX) of products and services. In fact, one study examining the top 15 companies in the U.S. who are leaders in UX, found that the companies outperformed the S&P 500 by 228% in the last 10 years. Unsurprisingly, user research is a core competency at every one of those companies. But even so, there are reoccuring challenges user researchers face; one being the need to convince stakeholders of the results. That’s why every good researcher knows that you must tailor your approach when sharing research results with different audiences.

To navigate this challenge, there is one practice that always works: showing videos of participants. A Forrester study finds that “a minute of video is worth 1.8 million words.” Every time I show participant videos in support of a research insight, I immediately see faces of skepticism turn into faces of acknowledgment and acceptance too. This is true for all stakeholders, from clients to colleagues. Seeing is believing!

What’s even better than showing videos clips post-research is allowing stakeholders to observe live research sessions. This has two additional benefits. First, it makes the research process transparent, which fosters trust in the study and opens the door for stakeholder engagement. Second, it gives people an opportunity to familiarize themselves with the participant feedback, which saves time when the final research readout is delivered. I find that it’s much easier to inform and convince stakeholders if they have watched research sessions first-hand.

What do you do if you don’t have a formal research lab with an attached observation room?

Conducting research at third-party facilities is always a possibility, but one study can run upwards of thousands of dollars. That is not a viable option for everyone. As an alternative, we’ve formalized a way to build a low-budget observation “room” for research sessions. It is so easy and inexpensive that anyone can do It, even if you have minimal resources at your disposal.

While we experimented with a number of different approaches, we found that the recommendation below best serves general observational needs, because:

  • It’s low cost. You likely have all of the materials in your office already and only have to spend $14.99 to be up and running. If your sessions are less than 40 minutes, you can set up an observation room for free.
  • The setup works for remote and in-person interviews and mobile app testing.
  • In either case, you only need to download one external meeting service. No more Reflector + Quicktime + a recording app +…you get the idea. This is true for testing with iPhones and Android devices.
  • You can easily record the entire session, including the participant and phone screen in one video.
  • Though you can set up a designated observation room,observers can also view the sessions remotely (and meeting hosts have the power to mute all observers). I ask that people observe at least three sessions before drawing conclusions and the ability to watch from anywhere helps encourage this.
  • You can schedule and send out the links to the observations in advance. This saves time and gets the research sessions on people’s calendars.
  • The whole setup is travel-friendly. Everything can be easily transported and the setup still works if you are doing research in the field.

Got your attention? Here’s how to go about it.

What You’ll Need

A diagram of the setup:

In the room you’ll be moderating the study (we’ll call this the “research lab”), you should have:

  • One Pro Zoom meeting account for live-streaming and filming the entire research session. We recommend that you sign up in advance; it’s $14.99/month for meetings longer than 40 minutes.
  • One laptop signed into the Zoom account for hosting and projecting the phone screen in the meeting.
  • One tablet or a laptop with a webcam for live-streaming and filming the participant. We’ve been using an iPad, but you just need something with a back-facing camera. You’ll need a way to prop up the tablet, either via a stand (here’s what we use) or some other means. Also, if your tablet or laptop isn’t great at picking up sound, a conference phone in the research lab is helpful.
  • One Wi-Fi-connected phone for testing. (Not needed if you are not testing with a mobile device.)

If you have a designated observation room, you will need:

  • A space separate from the research lab to serve as the observation room. Make sure you can’t hear conversations from the observation room in the lab.
  • Anotherlaptop that can project the research session to a TV in the room.

In lieu of a designated observation room, remote observers only need a laptop with an internet connection.


Step by Step Instructions
Setting-Up the Laptop in the Research Lab

1. Start the scheduled Zoom meeting. Connect to audio via the computer, unless you want to use a conference phone. You can turn off your video. Get help starting meetings here and scheduling meetings here .


Setting-Up the Test Phone

For iPhones:

1. Click “Share Screen” at the bottom of your screen > “iPhone/iPad via Airplay”. If prompted, install the plug-in. More information here.

2. Follow the provided prompts. If you are running into issues, here’s how to troubleshoot.

3. When you are connected, you should see the mobile phone screen appear in the meeting.


For Androids:

1. Download the Zoom meeting app on the test phone.

2. Join the meeting via the browser on the phone.

3. When in the meeting, click “Share” at the bottom of the screen > “Screen”.

4. When you are connected, you should see the mobile phone screen appear in the meeting.


Setting-Up the Participant Video Feed

1. Join the meeting via the browser on the tablet. Turn off the audio, but keep the video on. (If your tablet is better at capturing sound, you can keep the tablet’s audio on. Just remember to turn off the audio for the laptop in the research lab otherwise there will be feedback.)

2. When everything is set up, you will see something like:

Setting- Up the Observation Session/Instructions for Remote Observers

1. Join the meeting using the web link. (People can also be added to the meeting by clicking “Invite” at the bottom of the screen in the meeting.)

2. Right click the participant video > select “Spotlight Video”.

3. In top left hand corner, select the large rectangle. This will bring the phone screens and participant to the forefront.

4. If you are setting up a designated observation room, follow the same steps above on the laptop in the room and then project the screen to the TV.


(Optional) Recording the Session Via the Laptop in the Research Lab

Note: This still works even if you’re using the same laptop for note-taking.

1. Right click the participant’s video > select “Spotlight Video”.

2. In top left hand corner, select the large rectangle. This will bring the phone screen and participant to the forefront.

3. Hover near the top until the menu bar shows up. Hit “More” > “Record”.



After you click “end the meeting for all” as the host, the recording will be automatically saved.

If prompted about whether you want to save locally to your computer or the cloud, choose computer if you don’t want to be charged a storage fee or are concerned about data privacy. You can also access your recordings from the zoom application later.


A Few Final Tips
  • As a meeting host, you can mute participants on entry and altogether. More information about how to do that can be found here. If you are using audio on the tablet, make sure you make the participant view the host before muting participants.
  • When recording the meeting, don’t use the split screen view. The participant video might look bigger during the meeting, but the final recording will significantly shrink it.

And that’s it! Now you’re well-equipped to convince stakeholders of your research findings and ensure that users are at the center of your product’s design and experience. With your user needs, pain points, goals, and motivations in mind, you and your team will be set up to make better decisions, have happier customers, and achieve higher profits.

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