While working at Atlassian, I was tasked with finding quick and cheap ways of usability testing. I went to a number of meetups in the San Francisco Bay Area and tried to find the right users for my tests but many of these events are more of a social gathering and less hands-on.
As a response to this need I created UX Speed Dating (UXSD), a monthly event where tech professionals (designers, PMs, developers, etc.) get to present a product to three users for in-person feedback. It's formatted like a speed dating event with a twist. Product owners sit stationary and the users switch to a new tests every 20 minutes. Users are entered to win a grand-prize (see below) presented at the end of the event.
Ruth Buchanan (Co-host)
Caitlin Nienhaus (Marketing)
I had some experience through my Code for America fellowship organizing one-off events but reoccuring events are another beast; it takes a lot more time and patience.
The concept of a speed dating formatted, usability testing event was a tricky one to convey to would-be participants. Following the first few events, I took the time to email attendees about our messaging and the event itself and took their feedback into consideration. One thing we changed was calling the event UXSD instead of it's full name as attendees sometimes thought it was an actual dating event for UX professionals.
Ruth, Caitlin or myself would message new members to let them know what was expected from the event. People intending to test a product (conductors) needed to bring someone to add to the test taker (participant) pool. We also pushed new members to our website to review some guidelines for usability testing.
Two of our biggest concerns were funding the event (each event cost about $300 for food, beer and a prize) and finding event space, both provided through sponsors.
Our small team was able to create one of the most popular and impactful design events in the SF Bay Area. During my tenure, we were able to grow our list to over 1000 members. After I stepped down the new team extended that number to 1800.
One of the tenants our group operated under was to always provide a pragmatic event, something fun and entertain but more importantly one where attendees can accomplish something other than a page of notes and a pocketful of business cards. We would often see products get revised and retested at subsequent events. We received MANY compliments from attendees about how much they appreciated the feedback they received.
Early on I reached out to a couple of event owners I'd met throughout my careers. Once such individual, Christopher Wink, gave me lots of advice for how to grow a group. His biggest advice was consistency. We made sure that people know the 3rd Wednesday of the month was UXSD Night. The first year will be a rollercoaster and then people will "get it".
Some events would be very poorly attended, even though we would have ample RSVPs. This would take the wind out of the group's sails and make it difficult to retain the event sponsors. We curbed this by charging a $10 ticket price which may seem counter-intuitive, but works. Attendees are less likely to skip an event they've RSVP'd to if they've invested in it.