Great! You’ve got your design brief, areas of interest you want to look into, and some interviews lined up. But what‘s next?
This article provides you with hands-on advice on why and how to conduct interviews in your UX process.
Some of the recommendations you are going to read might seem trivial and obvious but neglecting only one of them can ruin your entire interview. Trust me, been there, done that… 😉
Only in recent weeks, I’ve conducted dozens of interviews for some client projects at Hinderling Volkart. The last one I did, I completely messed up! I assumed my interviewee had already been on-boarded and informed about why he got interviewed. So, I skipped a proper introduction and jumped right in! «Here we go! Let’s start! Tell me about yourself!»
That was a big mistake…
«Why the hell are you even talking to me? Do you even know who I am?», my interviewee furiously complained. I didn’t really know… As it turned out, he was an influential opinion leader in his field and the head of…
Well done! The mood was low and the energy down. The interviewee resent my questions and the interview became one of my longest hours ever…
If you DON’T want to fail like this, keep reading!
If you are familiar with interviews and what they are good for, you may also skip this chapter.
User interviews are a research method applied during the discovery phase of a human or user centred design process.
They help you gain a deeper understanding of people’s behaviour and their reason why they do what they do. In the best case, interviews reveal insights that help you answer your question.
Insights are the dormant truth about an issue, one’s motivation, wishes, or frustration regarding a specific topic.
«Creating services or products based on your own needs is easy! However, is very unlikely that you will ever design a product for yourself. If you want to make a product or service that meets your end user needs, listening to your users is essential. Interviews are just one way to do that in a effective and efficient fashion (Daniel Santos, FutureEverything)».
Make sure you know why you interview people. Have a clear problem statement set and know what you want to find out.
User interviews often don’t give you all the answers you need. Sometimes they are the wrong instrument. They may fail when you are trying to ask people to remember how something happened in the past or speculate on a future use of something (nngroup, 2010).
You want to find out about people’s struggles and delights. Make interviewees recall specific critical incidents. This may be pain points or moments of pleasure. They help you reveal what lies beneath them.
I am not fully going into details, but there are various types of interviews. This article refers to semi-structured interviews, but it can be applied to other interview types, too.
Structured interviews have a rigorous set of questions which do not allow one to divert. Semi-structured interviews on the other hand are more open. They allow new ideas to be brought up during the interview as a result of what the interviewee says (Wikipedia).
Be aware that user interviews are only one research method among many others. Check out this great overview of other design research techniques: http://designresearchtechniques.com/
I recently bumped into Swiss documentary film maker Paul Riniker (Link to Wikipedia entry – German only). He’s produced over 70 documentaries, he’s been a journalist, and he’s been lecturing for more than 20 years. A thing he told me over a beer struck me:
«I don’t interview people. I have conversations with them (Paul Riniker).»
Whether you call it an interview (I’ll keep referring to it that way) or a conversation, conducting interviews is about providing an experience to the person you want to learn from.
Getting this experience right is crucial to making your interviewee feel comfortable and to getting the most out of it.
From my experience, it is best to conduct an interview accompanied by a partner. First of all, facilitating and leading the interview becomes easier. Secondly, sharing each other’s thoughts and impressions after the interview provides another perspective.Facilitator/Interviewer:
Sometimes, there are other stakeholders taking part in an interview. This can be valuable to get them involved. Make sure that there are not too many people attending. This can be intimidating for the interviewee. Also, make sure they remain in the background and hold potential questions to the end of the interview.
If you do not have anyone to assist you, record the interview. Paying full attention to your interviewee and taking notes at the same time is challenging. Furthermore, your attention to the interviewee dwindles.
An interview is like a user journey in three phases:Pre-Interview & On-Boarding Interview Post-Interview & Off-Boarding
You could extend this and add more phases or touch points over the entire experience.
Once you have recruited interviewees, instruct them and provide a smooth onboarding process.Some days before the interview:
Furthermore, you want to have a written interview guide prepared. It serves as a guideline to ensure the consistency throughout your interview process. This is especially valuable if different people conduct interviews.
As you do in an agile process, it helps to do test-interviews, practice and iterate your interview guide.
Provide a more formal and transparent introduction once both parties have made themselves comfortable. Then, start with the actual interview questions.
An introduction could include the following components. Apply the bullets in the order that suits your flow:Greeting
Here is an example script for a potential introduction:
I usually structure my interviews in three parts:Intro – About the interviewee:
Here is a list of things you should take into account when you ask interview questions:
After the interview, thank your interviewees again for taking their time and point out the value of their presence.
Engage them in some casual small talk once again before you see them off. This might give you the chance to get some extra information.
Do a follow-up with your peers and start downloading and sharing your findings while they are still fresh. It is helpful to use color-coded Post-it®s with different categories such as:Observations Problems Opportunities Needs Quotes
One general rule to that
«One thought per Post-it»
Last but not least, send a follow-up message to your interviewees. Say THANK YOU again and let them know they can always connect back to you.
That’s it… You are done!
User interviews are a powerful tool to generate insights and help you evaluate and hopefully solve a problem.Have a clear goal in mind when you plan and set up interviews. Look for a «why» rather than a «yes» or a «no». Make your interviewees feel comfortable. Show them your appreciation and gratefulness at any point. Ask open questions (Why and How) and let them talk.
You wanna learn from your interviewees and not the other way around.
Thanks for the support and collab on this article Davis Levine, Daniel T Santos, Manuela Miksa, Tamar Hächler, Adrian Zumbrunnen.
This post is based on my personal professional experience and additional learnings gained at Hyper Island and via collaborating with IDEO’s Matt Cooper-Wright
Join our beta to get lifetime superuser access & learn from the smartest business minds on the planet web 🧠 😎