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User Interview

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Interviews give insights into what users think about a site, an application, a product, or a process. They can point out what site content is memorable, what people feel is important on the site, and what ideas for improvement they may have.

A user interview is a UX research method during which a researcher asks one user questions about a topic of interest (e.g., use of a system, behaviors and habits) with the goal of learning about that topic.

User interviews are typically performed with the potential users of a design, as part of an ideation phase or during early concept development. User interviews follow a structured methodology whereby the interviewer prepares a number of topics to cover, makes a record of what is said in the interview, and systematically analyzes the conversation after the interview.

Unlike 

which involve multiple users at the same time, user interviews are one-on-one sessions (although occasionally several facilitators may take turns asking questions).

UX Interviews tend to be a quick and easy way to collect user data, so they are often used, especially in Lean and Agile environments. They are closely related to journalistic interviews and to the somewhat narrower and more formal HCI method called the critical incident techniquewhich was introduced in 1954 by John Flanagan.

Although you may feel that doing a UX user interview is simple and straightforward, there is more to a good interview than many people realize.

User interviews can be done in a variety of situations:

  • before you have a design, to inform
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    Personas
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    Customer Journey Mapping
    , feature ideas, workflow ideas
  • to enrich a contextual inquiry study by supplementing observation with descriptions of tools, processes, bottlenecks, and how users perceive them
  • at the end of a usability test, to collect verbal responses related to observed behaviors
    • (Do defer the interview until after the behavioral observation segment of the usability study: if you ask questions before the participant tries to perform tasks with your design, you will have primed the user to pay special attention to whatever features or issues you asked about.)

How to do a user interview

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First and foremost, think of an interview as a type of research study, not a sales session or an informal conversation. Then, use the following tips to make your interviews most effective.

Set a goal for the interview.

Ask product stakeholders what they want to learn. From their desires, determine the main goal, ensuring that it’s realistic. Too broad of a goal, like learn about users, is a likely to make interviews fail, because it will not focus your questions in a direction relevant to your design needs. A concise, concrete goal related to a specific aspect of the users’ behavior or attitudes can bring the team to consensus, and direct how you’ll construct the interview.

Examples of good interview goals:

How do nurses feel about logging medical data, and what are the processes they believe they use?

Learn how architects share CAD drawings with engineers, and where they feel there are challenges and opportunities.

Find out how bicycle couriers get the best route directions, and what they feel works well, where they think there are issues, and how they think things could be improved.

Make the user feel as comfortable as possible. Create a rapport with the user.

People are more likely to remember, talk, and let their guard down if they feel relaxed and trust the interviewer and the process. Here are some tips for an effective interview.

  1. Have a video call or phone call (or at least some interaction) with the user before the interview itself.
  2. Before the interview day, and also at the start of the actual interview, explain the reason for the interview, and how the data from it will be used.
  3. Make the user feel heard by taking notes, nodding, frequent eye contact, offering acknowledgments like “I see,” and repeating the words the user said.
  4. Let users finish their thoughts. Do not interrupt them.
  5. Don’t rush the user. Pause. Slow down your pace of speech. Talking slowly has a calming effect and indicates that you are not anxious and that you have time to listen.
  6. Start with questions that are easy to answer and that are unlikely to be interpreted as personal or judgmental. For example, instead of “What was the last book you read?” try “What do you like to do in your spare time?” The latter is open-ended, while the former assumes the user read a book recently; those who did not may feel stupid.
  7. Show some empathy by asking related questions. But recall that it is difficult to act sympathetic without also being leading or making assumptions. For example, imagine that a user said he could not reach the customer-support team. You can show some concern by asking the user to elaborate: “You couldn’t reach support. Can you tell me more about that?” You could even try a question like “How did that make you feel?” but only if the user did not already indicate how he felt. For example, if the user already verbally or even nonverbally expressed frustration when recalling the event, then asking how he felt would seem as though the interviewer had not been listening. As an empathetic human being, you might want to say, “That must have been frustrating,” or “I’m sorry your time was wasted like that.” But those would be leading points. Instead, asking a question that relates to the users’ feelings can show that you are listening and feel for their plight. At the absolute end of the interview, you can express some of these more apologetic sentiments.
  8. Be authentic, and don’t fake empathy. Acting can make you appear disingenuous. It is better to be yourself; don’t say something if you don’t genuinely feel it.
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Keep in mind that there’s a big difference between rapport and friendship. The user does not have to really like you, think you’re funny, or want to invite you out for a cup of coffee in order to trust you enough to be interviewed.

Interviews are a quick and easy way to get a sense of how users feel, think, and what they perceive to be true. Do them, but complement them with observation-based research to attain an accurate and thorough sense of what users really do and a higher feeling of confidence with the information you collect.

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