A framework for structuring research

Nov 2, 2016 · 3 min read

Something I put together recently for a client who insisted on conducting his own interviews with his clients.

The primary objective from conducting task analysis, interviews and observational research is to help us define and describe the users’ mental models.

A mental model represents a person’s thought process for how something works — how they understand the world around them. They are often based on incomplete facts, assumptions, experiences and perceptions and they shape behaviour and define how people approach and solve problems.

The conceptual model is the actual interface and product experience. The thing that we will design and build. We want to get as close to a match between these two models. The better we understand the former, the closer we can get to a match with the latter.

  1. Objectives
    What questions are we trying to answer. What do we need to know. What are the knowledge gaps that we need to fill.
  2. Hypotheses
    What do we believe we already know. What are our current assumptions. What do we think we know about our users, both their behaviour and their requirements.
  3. Methods
    Are we meeting and interviewing people face to face. One to one or groups. Are we conducting interviews remotely, if so what tech are we going to use.
  4. Conduct
    Carry out the methods
  5. Analyse
    Find answers to our Objectives questions & prove or disprove our Hypotheses. Make sense of the results and draw out the insights and value. Decide how this can guide and impact our design decisions and also if we need to do some more research.

Interview technique and guidelines

Set expectations

Most people are not used to being interviewed, and many will feel apprehensive to some degree. Explain why you’re doing this and that you’ll be taking notes. You’re here to get a better understanding of how they work, how they manage their clients and their assets in the context of their daily job. By understanding their context, environment, motivations and goals we can better design services and products that meet those needs and make their lives better.

Shut up and listen

You’re there to get as much out of the interviewee as possible, nothing they say is bad. Analysis comes later. Make them feel relaxed and informal, they’ll be more forthcoming. You’re there to listen. Good listening is a technique, lots of lightweight positive reinforcement. Gentle smiles, slight nods and facial expressions of acknowledgement and agreement are good.

“If you want someone to talk, you’ve got to know how to listen. And good listening is a surprisingly active process. The interviewee is your focus of attention; you are there to hear what he says and thinks, exclusively.”

Don’t disagree with their point of view or present your opinion. If you want them to explain something or elucidate, invite them to say more. Why do you think that, how would you do that, how would you approach that situation?

People often raise the most interesting points once they’ve had time to process and internalise your questions. Give them time to think.

5 W’s and an H

The way you open your questions directly determines the type and the quality of the response.


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I’m loving bus journeys. Who knew they could be so inspirational, two buses and two posts! You have to be on the top deck though,