Protecting Yourself During User Research

Last week I ran a user research session that went sour and felt unsafe. I almost never recruit from Craigslist and now I remember why.

The Craigslist Creeper
My team and I sat by the elevator doors waiting for our participant sourced from Craigslist to show up. Let’s call him James. When James finally arrived we moved to a conference room to begin the session. Also in the room was my research wingman, a developer on the project. The rest of our team was in another room watching the session via Google Hangout.

James and I chatted for awhile about what he uses his three different cellphones for. One a free “Obama phone” the other he shares with his girlfriend and the third an Android. It didn’t really add up. We moved on. I showed him photos our team is considering using for an iPhone welcome screen. I laid out flashcards with different emotional words printed on them. I asked him to pickup the cards that described how he felt about the photos.

Out of nowhere, Craigslist James told my wingman I was sexy. I froze. Did he really just say that outloud? James nearly apologized by saying “I shouldn’t talk about you like you’re not in the room.” I collected myself and reminded him I was in the room. We continued the session with my Spidey Sense on alert. Looking back we should have ended the session right then.

James got weird said the photos reminded him of suicide, murder, rape, gloomy, death, etc. He also kept talking about being sleepy and I eventually figured out he was probably also high. James then locked eyes with my chest and low-hanging jewelry and said he liked my necklace. By then, everyone was independently racing to figure out how to end the session.

At that point a teammate from the observer room texted us to with a fake story about a fake meeting. Time for my Craigslsit Creeper to go home. While walking James out of the office he insisted several times I should call him if I needed anything at all. No thank you.

… continue reading on Medium

Nina Mehta is a writer and product design leader in Brooklyn, New York. She began her design career in journalism and has been writing online for 20+ years. Nina is from outside Chicago and has since lived and worked in San Francisco, Berlin, London, and Tokyo. Learn about Nina at

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