People who do great user research do two things very well:
First, they identify the most relevant people who sits on information they need.
Second, they put a 100% into making sure they conduct a super-efficient user research interview. An interview where they get all the information they need. And more.
Having good insights into the target audience of a web project is like having a secret weapon. Not doing ANY user research interviews is simply begging to get things wrong.
Because the more you know about your audience, the easier it will be to design a solution which converts. And because in the end, the job of web design is about converting visitors to purchases, leads or downloads.
With more commerce moving online AND more people getting online, the competition is fierce.
So what can you do to get an edge?
Make sure you do the proper user research.
The fastest way to get quality insights is to talk to people. Talk to users by conduction user research interviews.
Here’s the kicker:
Most web designers suck at doing user research interviews. For many it seems like a daunting task.
But as in most things in life, this usually breaks down to not having a basic system for conducting the interview.
In this post, I’m going to share with you some simple but powerful tips on how you too can conduct effective user research interviews.
The goal of any research interview
As with anything, knowing why you we do something is crucial.
Why are you conducting the interview? This, like all things in life, depends on several things.
But in the end, the goal of most user research interviews is…:
… to get a clear idea on the important things that influence how a potential user might use the website, product, app that we are about to design.
User research interviews should, if anything, give us an answer to that.
I’d like to debunk a popular myth about user research interviews.
The secret to conducting great interviews is not about being able to be a great talker. Nope. It’s more like the opposite is true.
Conducting great user interviews is about not talking. It’s about knowing how to shut up. More importantly:
Conducting great user research interviews is about being a great listener.
When I started out doing user research interviews I found being quiet to be extremely difficult. And it’s especially true if you’re passionate about the topic you’re interviewing about.
But here’s the thing:
Doing a lot of talk simply doesn’t work! You need to restrain yourself. You need to listen to the other person if you want them to open up the kimono.
The reason why is because you want the person you interview to open up as much as possible. The only way to achieve that is making sure the person you interview likesyou. That’s your first job; make sure you’re being liked.
The easiest way of being liked is by letting your interviewee come across as the smart person.
If you let them talk and express themselves, they will like you. And they will talk, and talk, and talk.
With that said, let’s move on with some tips on how to prepare yourself:
Follow these four simple steps to enter any user research prepared and ready.
Preparation is always good. and you need to do some before conducting your interviews.
You don’t need to do much though. It’s enough with creating a small guide for yourself.
A guide which lists a set of guidelines that helps you stay on topic and collect the best information possible in every interview you conduct.
This guide should contain:
- A short(ish) description of the interview and an explanation of why you’re conducting it. Share this with the person you’re interviewing (and use it for yourself to make sure you stay on topic).
- Some demographic questions that lets you put the answers you get in a proper context (this depends on the project of course but it usually include; name, gender, job title, age, role etc)
- Some easy questions that helps engage in some small-talk in order to warm up both yourself and your subject.
- Your questions (the questions that will make out the interview)
It goes without saying that before you go in doing these interviews you should have familiarized yourself with the topic (and people) you will be discussing.
Interviewing mothers about a website for a nanny-service? Read up on how nannys.
Talking to a rep for customer service of a betting site? Browse through the support forums of betting sites.
The basic structure of any user research interview
Divide the interview into three sections (or acts, if you’re more dramatically inclined).
1. A proper presentation will help you get more and better answers during the interview.
- Smile and present yourself. Express your gratitude. (Remember, this person has taken time off their schedule to meet with you).
- State the purpose and topic of the interview (without going into too much details). A simple overview is enough.
- Explain what you will do with the material collected (will it be used, published etc).
- Ask them if it’s okay to record the interview (you might think you will be able to jot down the important things they say but believe me, if you’re doing things right, you won’t have many notes at the end of the session.).
- Ask them if they have any questions.
After this, start asking about their job title, age etc (the demographic questions we talked about earlier). Then ease into the warm-up questions.
2. If you ask these types of user research questions during the interview, the quality of your answers will improve drastically.
Once you’re both warmed up you can move on with the actual interview. Some people will give you a lot of info fast. Others will have to be helped.
You might be wondering:
How do I get good answers? Easy.
The best way to get good answers is to ask open ended questions. Questions that encourage people to actually talk rather than respond yes, or no.
Do this by avoiding asking questions that start with “Do you…” Instead ask questions that start with “Tell me about how…” or “Walk me through…”
If you feel you’re not getting enough information ask them; “Why do you think that?” or “Please tell me more about that”
Make sure you never interrupt your subject and make sure you leave room for pauses. You can even go so far as to allow for uncomfortably long pauses.
Because nobody likes to be uncomfortable. The easiest way to avoid uncomfortable silence is by talking. Make sure you try this, it’s incredibly efficient.
3. Closing the interview
Once you feel you have enough information you can start wrapping up the interview.
Say something like; “Well, that about wraps up my questions. Is there anything you’d like to to add to what we discussed? Is there anything you think I missed asking you?”
Be sure to really thank them for their time and effort (you might want to interview them or their co-workers again).
Conduct the user research interview this way (to squeeze out the best possible answers)
If you haven’t conducted many interviews it might feel a little bit weird at first. Mainly because you will be wearing two hat. The interviewer and the researcher.
As the interviewer your job, apart from asking good question, if ensuring that your subject is feeling comfortable.
The more relaxed and the better a participant feel, the better and longer answers you will get.
A relaxed participant will gladly open up and will have less problems with being transparent and honest.
It’s your job to make sure they feel that they don’t have to perform. They should never feel like they’re being judged.
As mentioned earlier, the trick to getting good answers is making sure you talk as little as possible.
Think of it as they’re the best expert in the world on the subject you’re talking about.
Think of them as the Stephen Hawking of their domain. You wouldn’t interrupt Stephen Hawking, would you?
It’s only okay to interrupt when you feel that important information is being left out. Or when you need clarifications
Do these things during the interview to 2- 3x the quality of the answers
Don’t be weird by being totally quiet. Listen actively by regularly make mm-hmm sounds. Nod and look at the speaker in the eye (but not in a creepy way).
Be attentive to when answers start to become too general. When this happens be ready to insert a quick question like “Why do you think that?” or “Walk me through that…”
Never talk about yourself. Avoid sharing personal stories even though they’re very similar…
In the end you want to make sure you act as natural as possible.
Don’t look on the interview as an “interview”. Look at it as a conversation with a person that sits on valuable information. Information that will help you do a better job.
The best thing that can happen is that your subject starts to give you all the information you need without you even having to ask. Often times simply continuing asking “why” will generate enough information.
Because in the end, all you really want is to get insight into how their attitude and thoughts about a certain topic or situation. How they act. What they do. What they don’t do and maybe more importantly: What they would like to do.
By knowing how to conduct proper user research interviews you’re on good way to become a user research specialist.