Thoughts on user interviews

I have been lately thinking a lot about user interviews. It is the most crucial part of the design process. Unlike wireframing, information architecture, or brainstorming, this is an activity that can only be learned by going out on the field. Reading only has limited use with this one.

I remember, when i had started out, i used to be terrified of user interviews. These days, not so much. There are still a thousand ways in which i can improve. But i am no longer hesitant of interviewing people.

Routine introspection was quite useful in getting my fears out of the way. These days, immediately after an interview, I analyze the good and the bad. This helps me be better prepared for the next interview. Most of us don’t do this, because heck, interviews are exhausting. Thinking about them retrospectively is even more tiring. But it doesn’t have to be. Just talk to yourself, may seem crazy, but do it. Its a great way to strategize for future interviews.

One of the things i used to consistently do wrong was asking follow up questions. I wasn’t particularly good at switching gears, and moving to a new category of questions. But with practice, and by pairing with seasoned interviewers, I have learned this trick.

Another thing that helped was listening to podcasts like Fire Nation. As i said earlier, reading may not drastically improve your interviewing skills. But listening, well, that could be super useful. Podcasts helped me figure out how to end interviews. It is useful to establish a continuing relationship with your interviewees. You never know when you may have to reach out to them for a follow up question or an artifact. In my undergraduate, i would end the interview when i ran out of questions. Awkward thanks, awkward bye, and done. In the large scheme of things, awkwardness doesn’t matter all that much. People are kind enough to reply to you even if you have bored them to death with your questions, and dismissed them awkwardly. But if you can make a lasting impression, then why not. Now before ending, I ask them if they have any questions for me. I acknowledge i will stay in touch, and they are more than welcome to email me if they remember something important. I know, obvious stuff, but it takes a while to perfect this. Lastly, and this one isn’t too obvious, I send them a thank you note/email for their time.

Last thing that has been quite instrumental in shaping my interviewing skills is “thinking of” questions. We go into interviews with a script, but many times we have to wing it. Its not enough to listen and take notes. We have to be good at asking questions. And trust me, this is easier said that done. Years of education can put your brain in “answer” mode. But in an interview, to get to the specifics, you need to constantly scan the answers for anything you may have missed. So i have started practicing asking questions. That’s one of the reasons i am getting active on Quora again ;-)

These were my random thoughts on user interviews. I am sure few people who will stumble upon this post may be great at interviewing. Please leave tips for further success. Would mean a lot. Thanks in advance