Switch Conference Notes

The Rewired Group occasionally run Switch Workshops — a 2 day conference that aims to teach attendees the switch interview technique. Last year, I was lucky enough to attend one. Whoops!

The switch interview is a powerful technique you can use to examine what motivates someone to buy and use a product. Ultimately, the method helps you discover the job (The progress an individual is trying to make in a given circumstance) a person is trying to get done.

Here are my notes:


  • Focus on breadth of insight in the first 2–3 interviews. You don’t yet know what you’re looking for or what patterns might emerge. Use future interviews to go deep on emerging patterns.

The Interview Intro

  • Start the interview with the “documentary intro”. The documentary intro helps you dig down on detail later in the interview without it seeming too weird.
  • Take the pressure off the interviewee by framing the interview as “just doing early research”.
  • Give them an out: “It’s okay if you can’t remember something”
  • Give the interviewee an idea of how long the interview will last (in all honesty, it’ll probably last longer, but they usually enjoy it  — free therapy)

The Interview

  • Switch interviews are about everything apart from the product. Your aim is to find out what progress a customer was trying to make in a specific situation. It’s not about what they like about a specific product.
  • Avoid a psychological evaluation.
  • It’s all about hunting down the energy. Any switch has energy behind it. Real energy is not subtle, you’ll recognise it when you see it.
  • Find the point of urgency — when did it become urgent that they switch and why — this is where you find what tradeoffs people are really making.
  • Don’t start prioritising features after the the first couple of interviews. Feature priorities come from multiple interviews, not single interviews.
  • Ask a question differently (or wrong) to get a more accurate answer — sometimes misunderstand on purpose. Reframe and playback their story to gain clarity.
  • Gain insight about features through stories. People might say “I need my phone to be able to take great photos” — Respond with “When have you needed to take great photos?” or “Is there something coming up where you’ll need to take great photos?”. Place the feature in a situation to get richer insights.
  • Replace “Do you use [product]” with “What’s your role at the company”
  • Switch interviews are about “what” not “why”. When you’re tempted to ask why, double down on context. Ask these questions when you’re tempted to ask why: What happened before? What happened next? Who else was there?
  • If you’re on the timeline, you’re on track. If you’re talking about opinions or speculating, you’re off piste.
  • Don’t start speculating why some did something during the interview. Again, this interview is about “what” or “when” not “why”. Create hypotheses about why a participant did something after you completed all your interviews.
  • Get participants to tell stories. Example questions: — Tell me about the last time you used product X — Tell me about the last time you were in this situation — Tell me what happened when you went into the store — Tell me about the conversation you had with your friend
  • Frequently playback their story to gain clarity, but rephrase — don’t use the same words as your subject.
  • Don’t ever ask why product X is better than product Y — let these details come out in the story. (You’ll get opinion if you ask this)

Questions to have up your sleeve

  • Why didn’t you use [old solution] to do [the job]?
  • How close were you to buying [product that they didn’t end up buying]?
  • Clarify when someone uses ambiguous words like Clean, clear, easy. What does clean mean to you? What’s not clean?
  • Reframe and playback their story to gain clarity — “I don’t understand that, sorry, would you mind explaining that differently”
  • Play dumb — “I don’t know what something like that is called, what would you call it?”
  • What does [product bought] replace?
  • Why didn’t you buy when you first looked?
  • If they agree with an assumption you made and they agree, ask “That’s what I said, but is that true?”
  • Have you been in this situation before? What did you do?
  • When talking about the day of purchase — “Did you know you were going to buy it then?”
  • When did you know that you were going to buy [product]?
  • When you asked [friend/colleague/relation] for advice, was there an urgency to get their response?
  • When people talk about features, ask “what does the feature mean to you?”
  • A jobs profile is where the overlaps of causality exist

Further reading