A Guidance for Novice UX Designer: How to Start a User Interview

A good designer should learn their users. Two months ago, I started my first UX Internship at Elsevier, I’m a fresh UX designer and all my knowledge for user interviews comes from class. After some explorations, I conducted user interviews that I was satisfied with, which gave me some confidence. Today, I want to share some instruction materials and the interview tips with those novice designers who is seeking for advice like me.

Fast guiding materials

To start preparing your first user interview, I would like to recommend you start with those materials, they will give you a rough idea on how to do a qualified user interview.

  1. Watch the video Lecture 16 — How to Run a User Interview (Emmett Shear). This is a quick glance at user interview, the practical and vivid lesson is given by the CEO of Twitch.
  2. Read the blog How to get better answers from asking better questions. A really good summary on the key points on how to propose good interview questions. This will help you avoid the basic mistakes that people often have.
  3. Read the book Interviewing Users. A small book with detailed introduction on the whole process of the user interview, including how to contact the interviewees, how to prepare for the interview, how to ask right questions and and how to collect and analyse data. I suggest you read chapter 4, chapter 5 and chapter 6 first if you don’t have enough time for the whole book.

Prepare the attitude

Remember, one of your goal is to build good relationship with your interviewee. Treat the interviewee as your lover, show your curiosity, patience and caring.

Interview tips

There are some interview tips that I summarised from interviews and materials, which are good reminders for the novice.

  • Plan the interview at interviewee’s environment. When you plan your interview, it’s better to happen in interviewee’s environment. First, the familiar environment would help interviewee relax and encourage them to talk more. Second, this is the best place to rebuild the scene where interviewee encountered problems or used some products. This is a good chance to get close to interviewees’ real lives.
  • Show is better than talk. If interviewee mentioned something or the process, if possible, ask them to show you. You will find lots of details and information from their belongings, their behaviours and their actions. e.g. I have asked a professor “could you please show me how you use the App to take notes during the meeting?” The professor showed the whole process to me and I got much useful information.
  • Let interviewee tell a story. Try to encourage your interviewee to describe the whole process in details, the story would be the best. Since people usually have good memories on a story, and the story can contain lots of details. Asking interviewee tell a story will inspire a lot, even emotions.
  • Be patient with the silence, ask one question and stop. This is a really important tip, and I’m still practicing it. When you ask one question, there will be few-second silence before interviewee answer. This is quite normal, because people need time to think and phrase. Don’t try to break the silence by adding explanations or adding new questions. You may interrupt interviewees’ thinking and lose important information. Most of the time, interviewees have understand the question and they are just thinking. Similarly, some interviewees may pause for a while in their answers, because they may try to refresh their memory. Therefore, be patient with silence is a good strategy.
  • And there is a small trick, if you don’t talk within thesilence, the interviewee will try to talk more since they’re also afraid of the silence. You may get interesting ideas from those silence.
  • Ask open questions but with some specified attributes. Ask the questions with ”how” “what” “why” rather than ”can you” “do you” “Is this”, open questions don’t set restrictions and produce more possibilities. You will get more details and concrete answers.
  • Grab your tiny inspirations. During the interview, you will produce many tiny inspirations from interviewee’s answers. Prepare a notebook to write down those inspirations, they may help you produce good ideas.
  • Refer to interviewee’s words in the early answers. Refer to the words interviewee mentioned earlier could show your attention and caring for this talk, this will make them feel comfortable and happy.
  • Learn interviewee’s jargon and body language. Studies have shown that people are easy to like those who have the similar jargons or body languages with them. Try to learn interviewee’s jargons and mimic their body languages, this could help quickly close the distance with them.

In the end

Those are the things that I wish I knew before I start my first interview. I wish those novice designers who don’t have experience with user interview could learn something from this article. It’s never be too late to learn.