I recently had a workshop attendee of mine reach out to ask about conducting UX usability tests at trade shows. Testing at trade shows is something I have done many times but never thought would be valuable information for others. Here are 6 things I told the attendee that he found most useful.

First off, usability testing at trade shows is challenging but totally worth it. Trade shows are uniquely suited for quick and thorough data gathering. They are the only environment where you’ll find a captive audience of real users, primed to help your research initiatives. The bad news is, with this fantastic opportunity comes a handful of specific challenges.

User testing station at a trade show

User testing station at a trade show

Tip 1: Make your tests shorter than you usually would.

I recommend 10-15 user tasks for a standard usability test. Testing that number of tasks typically takes 45 min to an hour. Participants tend to experience fatigue after an hour of testing, which can compromise the data. At trade shows, you’ll be getting participants in between informational sessions, on their lunch break, or while visiting the vendor area. I’ve found 5 tasks is a good rule-of-thumb for these more time-compressed scenarios. I am typically shooting for the 15 min. mark for trade show tests.

Tip 2: Plan on conducting many tests.

Because of the massive participation volume, and the fact that 5-8 users are the optimal number of participants per test, plan on conducting many different tests at trade shows. Since trade show tests are shortened to only 5ish questions, you’ll have to break up your standard test into 3 mini-tests. (Four, 15 min. mini-tests = one, hour standard test.) Even with this 4 to 1 ratio, you’ll still burn through participants quickly. I recommend preparing six or seven full tests to bring to trade shows to accommodate the extreme volume. The trick is to order your tests by importance and go through that prioritized list one at a time. If you get through all seven tests, go back to test one, and add a participant. Do this for each test in sequence. This ensures you are maximizing the data collection for your highest priority tests.

Tip 3: Record your sessions.

Trade shows are hectic places, so you’ll want to distill the data you collect in a different location. To do this, you’ll need a way to record each session. In my experience, setting up a video meeting via Skype or Zoom, sharing your screen, and recording from there is the easiest and best way to do this. Video meetings capture the site/app screen and the participant’s facial expressions as they execute tasks. Note: I highly recommend having each participant sign a consent form before you start recording. I also recommend having the participants consent verbally in the video after you’ve hit the record button.

Tip 4: Create a screening sheet.

Although trade shows are filled with representative users, you’ll still need to know the demographics of the people you test. By having a screening sheet, you expedite the participant intake process. It also creates a queue, ensuring you have a steady flow of participants. Lastly, it gives other attendees social evidence that your study is worth their time. Nothing persuades better than seeing a line of people waiting to participate in a session.

Tip 5: Bring participation incentives.

Another great way to ensure you are booked for the entire trade shows is giving out prizes for participation. $50 Amazon, Starbucks, and Best Buy gift cards always seem to do the trick. Word will get out among the attendees, and before you know it, people will be lining up to take your test. Of course, this is where the screening sheet comes in handy. Incentive prizes tend to bring out a couple of greedy buggers, so be on the lookout.

Tip 6: Don’t forget chairs.

Conducting back-to-back, 15 min. usability tests, for 8-10 hours straight, is grueling. Of all the usability testing I do, trade show tests are the most extreme physical experience I’ve encountered. Do yourself a favor a bring chairs so you and your participants can sit during the tests.


Consider getting a usability booth for your next trade show. It’s a great way to gather a high volume of user data quickly. It also allows you to interact with a lot of real users all at once. Seize the opportunity by not only gathering great user-centered data but also getting to know your users as people. The more multifaceted your understanding of your users becomes, the more confident you’ll be in design products they will love.