Tips and Tricks for Conducting User Interviews

November 25, 2014 • UX Methodology • Views: 4758


Let’s say you know this set of facts about me: I am a college-educated female between the ages of 20-30. I work in the financial sector and commute to work with the public transport system.

I tweet every once in a while, I facebook obsessively, and I subscribe to a set of RSS feeds of various fashion, design and fitness magazines. I have brown hair, blue eyes. I recently returned from a trip in Mykonos, Greece where I stayed in Hotel Palladium.

Now, does this set of information help you understand why I decided to switch my phone carrier to a different one? Demographics or data metrics don’t always give the insight we are looking for. It can give us valuable insight into the what and the when, but not the why. This is where user research comes into play.

One of the most effective methods used to understand who the users of a system are, is through user interviews. You can never assume that you know exactly what the users need from a product, because you are not the user. Interviews help inform us about what a product should be, how it should work, and why it will improve a users experience with a brand. At my current job at Deutsche Bank, we (the UX team) often conduct user interviews as it helps form a solid ground for us to start confidently building on.

Below is outlined a couple of tips and tricks to keep in mind when conducting user interviews, co-authored by Michael Quon

Before you start, define your objective

What insights are you looking for? What questions do we need answers to? What knowledge gaps are there, and which ones are important? Setting your objective involves documenting exactly what questions you will be asking in order to gain the insights you need. Consider questions starting with Who, What, When, Where, Why, and How.

Some example objectives:

  • Identify any frustrations or pain points
  • Uncover why the product is not being used
  • Prioritising what is important to your users
  • Prove/disprove hypotheses you or the business may have about user behaviour

Make sure your users are representative

Find out who will be using your product. It can be one group of users or multiple user types that use your product. Gear your questions appropriately.

Do your homework

When meeting users, you should understand their world. If they trade investment grade bonds, you need to know how those bonds work. You are there to gain insight into their world, and hence need to speak their language. It will also help you ask relevant questions throughout the interview without the user feel like he/she is wasting his time teaching you about what the product actually is.

Master/apprentice model

When conducting a user interview, it is best to take the Master/Apprentice model. You are the apprentice looking to learn from the master. The questions that you ask should be casual. The participant should never feel like they are being grilled or tested. Start off with easy questions to get them warmed up and then go into more in depth questions. Allow them to do the talking, and use the questions as a guide to get the information you need.

Ask open ended questions

Ask questions that allow the user to open up and let their thoughts flow such as “Can you walk me through how you would…” or “Tell me more about… “. These types of questions make the users think about their answers and explain more in depth. If you ask “What features do you use the most? Bulk updating? Report distribution? Exporting?” The user will chose one of your options and forget to mention something you haven’t thought of.

Don’t offer solutions

Do not try to solve their problems. If a user says something like “There’s so much information it’s hard to see the important information.” Offering a solution like “Would a tabbed view be a better way to present this information?” You’re asking the user to imagine and respond to a solution that may not even be appropriate. Focus on the needs, not the solution. At the end of the interview, if you already have some ideas in your mind of how you see the designs crystallizing, you might be able to get away with getting their thoughts on it. But remember, that is not the primary goal of user interviews.

Write up your notes straight away afterwards

Right after your user interview, make sure you have all your notes written down. Review the notes to see if you missed anything. It is important to do this as soon as you can after the interview is over, while the conversation is still fresh in your mind.

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