Snickers Testing (Sort of like Polly Want a Peanut?)

I dream of getting my organization to provide annual funding for a formal usability program.  When I go to conferences and hear the lucky ducks talk about how they use recruiting agencies and pay participants $100+/hour for their time, I just smile.  My eyes gloss over as I begin to daydream. And dare to dream, I do!

But I know that dream will not become reality any time soon.

My reality is:   No budget.  Zero dollars.  We’re not for profit.


So what is my secret to successfully recruiting research participants without a monetary incentive?


Think Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.

Kath Straub, formerly of Human Factors International, refers to it as “Snickers Testing”.  And the first time I tried it, I had great results.

I had been tasked with creating a wireframe for a search feature.  I asked if I could test it.  There was some resistance because, if memory serves, we needed to “get it done quickly”.   But I really felt we had to see how people reacted to the design (confession:  I didn’t think people would get it).  So down to the local drugstore I went and I shelled out about $10 for assorted candy, including Snickers.

I headed to our cafeteria during lunch time, grabbed a table by the doors and poured the candy all over the table.  The big pile of candy was very eye-catching.

Like every good Girl Scout, I asked everyone who walked by:  “Hey, do you have a minute?  I need your help.  It’ll only take 5 minutes and you can have some candy!”

Sure, there was one jerk who replied, “No, but I’ll take the candy,” and he took a piece of candy and walked off.  He was classy.

But more often that not, people were happy to help and they appreciated the candy.  Some didn’t even take any, but they sat down and helped.  I asked them one question:  What do you think is going on here?  And I would point to the picture.  From there, I just facilitated the conversation.

After an hour or so, I had some ideas for enhancing the design so I went back to my desk and made changes.  I returned to the cafeteria and asked people to look at the revised design.  And from that, I got some more ideas.  Back to the desk.  More changes.  Retested the following day.

No, it wasn’t rigorous.  Yes, it attracted people who liked the kind of candy being offered.

But did it help improve the design?  Absolutely.  It was worth $10.
Candy has not been the only incentive we’ve used successfully.

1. Gift cards to area eateries – $10 Starbucks cards went over extremely well.
2. Homemade baked goods – One of my colleagues is an amazing vegan cook.  Her cupcakes will surprise you!
3. Cool Pens or Tote Bags – If your company has good chachkas try using them.
4. Books – We publish them so it was an easy thing to give away.
5. Simple gratitude – When was the last time you were appreciated for offering your opinion?

Have I used these incentives to successfully recruit PhDs and other folks who tend to fall into the category of “difficult to get their time”


But there’s one extra step to getting doctors, lawyers, and c-level types to participate for little or no incentive.

What is it you ask?

I’ll tell you about it next time.  🙂

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2 thoughts on “Snickers Testing (Sort of like Polly Want a Peanut?)

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