This tutorial breaks down the typical user interview kit used by Mentor Creative Group. In this article we will explain some of the hows and whys around our process for creating this important design tool. You can access a template for this kit from the Mentor website.
At Mentor, we use the term “kit” to describe what amounts to an outline for any kind of research activity.
Let’s take a closer look at the anatomy of a user interview kit.
Research goals define what you want to accomplish during your interviews. What questions do you need to have answered and what is their priority as far as next steps? Each question you ask should tie back to at least one of these goals to ensure you’re asking the right questions. For those of you that have read our tutorial on personas you’ll notice that the research goals here map to our persona outline. The idea is that you’re asking questions during user interviews that will help flesh out a persona deliverable.
“Ask questions during your user interviews that will help flesh out your personas.”
Mentor uses this boilerplate intro with contextual variations for both interviews and testing sessions. The important thing to remember is that you want the interview to feel conversational, not scripted. If this doesn’t sound like you then write something that does while covering the same bullet points and memorize it.
Replace the italicized content with the specifics of your project. For user interviews, we like to give participants a little bit of backstory around the scope of what we are working on. Our team will speak in general terms if Mentor is under DNA but the participant is not. Still, setting the stage is always a good idea. That way participants know why you’re talking to them and ultimately why the interview is important.
“Participants need to know why you’re talking to them and why the interview is important.”
In a traditional interview, one person moderates the discussion. Ideally your participant does most of the talking, but it’s important to keep a manageable interview to interviewee ratio. That way the participant doesn’t get overwhelmed. Our general rule of thumb is to take the number of interviewees and add one, which in a standard format means a two person research team at most. That being said, remote sessions can accommodate more observers and we sometimes meet with a participant in person while dialing in others to keep a small head count in the actual meeting space. If you take this approach, remind your observers to stay on mute for the duration of the call and that there will be some time at the end for group Q&A.
Regardless of the method, make sure to introduce other members of your team instead of ignoring them. If you’re in a situation where a client wants to observe an interview but they’re the interviewee’s boss then you should kindly explain how that might color the conversation. You might not always get your way on this one, but always provide a firm rationale for why it’s not a good idea for a boss to observe a subordinate’s interview session. In most cases they will back down. If you’re taking notes and recording the session then you can tell the client that you’ll provide anonymized transcriptions after all the interviews have concluded.
“Our general rule of thumb is to take the number of interviewees and add one, which in a standard format means a two person research team at most.”
Screen sharing with an existing product is an incredibly useful resource when coupled with a participant’s voiceover. We highly recommend researchers take this approach during an interview when it’s applicable. The directions here are completely dependent on the tool you are using and whether you’re conducting a remote or in-person interview. If you’re doing an in-person interview then you might want to do a screen capture or even set up a camera in the room. For more on this approach you can check out our tutorial on contextual inquiry.
“Seeing a participant use an existing product is infinitely more valuable than just having them describe the problem without a visual aid.”
Our researchers start a recording right before asking permission. That way we have verbal consent captured without needing to ask the question again or request that the participant fill out an intimidating consent form. If your interviewee is not comfortable with a recording, then simply stop and delete.
As I write this I’ve never had to stop and delete a recording. Most people are comfortable with being recorded as long as they know how the recording will be used and who’s going to have access. That being said, you forgo the consent form at your own risk. We advise everyone to use their best judgement and adhere to their existing company guidelines. In the past we’ve done this differently but over time our researchers have noticed that removing the form goes a long way to keep the interview conversational. Go figure.
For an in-person interview concerning an existing product you should consider asking the participant to do a screen recording. This can happen on their machine using software already installed or you can boot up a product instance on your laptop and let the participant use your machine instead. If the participant is going to be using your device then make sure to print the script before hand and assign someone from your research team as a notetaker. For remote sessions, you can just record the screen share regardless of who has the controls after getting consent.
“Do a screen recording and ask the participant to point out things in the product as they come up in conversation.”
Now for the meat of our study kit. While this study kit looks like a checklist, conversational interviews shouldn’t feel like you’re checking things off a list. There will be a lot of jumping around in this section so do your best to keep track of what’s already been covered. Think of your list as more of helpful guide. Chat for awhile then check back to see what else you want to ask. Let’s say the participant goes off script, but the new narrative seems important. You should explore this space with them but be mindful of your research goals and manage your time accordingly. It’s always a good idea to add extra padding to your sessions for unexpected tangents.
You’ll notice each example question has it’s applicable research goal to the right. Use this layout to your advantage during the interview as a rubric for evaluating a participant’s response. Let’s say you ask the second question in the example above, “Please describe your job and how it relates to your organization as a whole”, and the participant talks a lot about how their immediate team is structured but not a lot about their role and how they fit into the bigger picture. By quickly referencing your inline research goal, you can assess whether the response is helpful before moving on. Use a bit of improvisation for how you ask the question if they don’t seem to be giving what you need.
You’ll also notice that some questions in the example have additional queries marked with little sub bullets. When you ask a question, it’s important to not lead the conversation. Instead of asking these sub queries right away, wait until the participant has answered the main question, then follow up as needed with the additional questions. These bullets are formatted as boxes in our kit so you can actually check them off a printed script, but don’t stare at this document or check things off while the participant is talking. If they are a fast talker you can ask for a pause when there’s a natural stopping point then figure out what you want to ask next. Again, keep it conversational. You don’t check things off a list when your friends are speaking so you shouldn’t do it here.
“Interviews are not linear. Be mindful of what’s been covered in your script without cutting off useful tangents.”
If you have observers on the call then this is a good time to open up the conversation. However, make sure to cut things off when there’s a couple minutes left so the participant has time to ask questions of their own.
You may find the “end recording” callout unnecessary, but I can’t tell you how many times I’ve left a recording running after an interview. In addition, it’s a good idea to immediately update any kind of payment sheet you might have that helps you or someone in billing know that a participant needs to get paid. If you’re not compensating your participants then you can take this part out.
“Leave time at the end for group Q&A but make sure the participant has time to ask at least one question of their own.”
If you found this article useful, you can find a list of our other tutorials and templates on the Mentor website.