Pretotyping Challenge, Part 4 — Conducting your interview

“All I’m offering is the truth… nothing more.”

(Note: If you landed on this page and wondering where in the heck the other three parts are, you can find them here…)

Interviewing Olivia

In our last episode, we came up with the following hypothesis:

  • Olivia Rodrigo would pay $49 USD to attend a 60 minute co-creation session to learn how to conduct a four-step sketch

This hypothesis was a combination of what we know about Olivia (her preferences and attitudes and how that might impact the offer we give) and the core idea we had for a product or service. We narrowed our audience to a single person and refined it for her assumed preferences.

Now it’s time to talk to her about it.

You’ll need to find out when the two of you will have about 45–60 minutes to chat. If you’re not in a hurry, I’d suggest a two week window where you can both reasonably accommodate a mutual time and date that works for each of your schedules.

You’ll also have the option of chatting in-person or online. Since we’re not quite out of the pandemic yet, the better option is to reserve some time online to have a conversation.

If you decide to go online with your conversation, you can record the session (with permission), share an early agenda of what your session might look like and send questions for your interviewee to answer in advance. I always recommend that last one (sending questions) to save time and really dig into follow-up questions right from the start.

Next, make sure you have all your ducks in a row with regards to technology. Check your settings for your meeting (in Zoom, WebEx, Butter, etc.) and ensure that your interviewee can do the same. You can send a test link in your meeting invite to help them prepare (and catch any problems in advance).

Finally, be prepared to make a simulated (fake) transaction. It could be a credit card purchase, letter of intent, online/in-person sign up form with personally identifiable information (PII)… whatever you need to secure commitment from your interviewee to purchase or attend what you are offering.

Keep in mind that you won’t be keeping anything they give you, nor processing an actual transaction. You’ll be simulating their transaction as part of your pretotype to verify their intent. It’s a critical engagement moment that your upcoming interview will be driving towards.

Conducting a fact-based interview (i.e. the small talk sandwich)

It’s always great to get feedback about something you create. You get fresh perspectives on what other people think, how they react to what you’ve done and ultimately give you a sense of direction and/or purpose with the next design phase of your idea.

Unfortunately, your audience is going to give you opinions that are completely free of accountability. They might just be telling you what you want to hear because they want you to feel good about what you’ve done. Others may tell you one thing but ultimately act in a different capacity if your idea ever came to market.

Instead of giving blind faith to a bunch of targeted interviews with a lot of implied intent, I recommend conducting what’s called a ‘small talk sandwich’. It’s very much like the ‘story sandwich you may have read about in Part 1. This one’s slightly more involved.

Here’s what a ‘small talk sandwich’ looks like:

  1. Spend your first ten minutes getting to know one another and setting the stage for what you’re going to talk about.
  2. Take the next twenty minutes to conduct a fact-based interview on your product, service or idea.
  3. Ask for some ‘skin in the game’ to see if they really want what you’re offering.
  4. Wrap up with some exploratory questions to inform your original hypothesis.

Let’s unpack each of these and explain what happens.

1. Getting to know one another + setting the stage (10 min)

In the beginning, you’ll be engaging in small-talk and preparing your interviewee for what’s to come.

Ask how they’re doing, what they’ve been busy with or what they’re looking forward to in the near future. Just try to avoid topics like politics, hygiene or messy relationships. (I’m sure you’ll do just fine. 😁)

From there, reiterate why you’re having a conversation and what you’re looking to discuss with the time you’ll have together.

Let the interviewee know they are *not* being tested. There are no right or wrong answers. No grade will be given at the end of the session. They are simply there to share their perspectives and provide insight on what you’ve been working on.

Encourage your interviewee to think out loud. It’s not intuitive to say what’s on your mind, and we often hold silent counsel instead of speaking out. But the more you can ask the question ‘What are you thinking about?’ or ‘What comes to mind when you see this?’ during the interview, the better your interviewee can frame their responses in a way that helps you understand their perspective.

Give them permission to be as straightforward as possible. State very clearly that this is an exploratory conversation where everyone is learning something new. You’re simply sharing some ideas and to understand their perspective. They won’t be hurting anyone’s feelings.

Finally, ask for permission to record your session for later review. Even if you explicitly state that you’ll be recording in your offline correspondence, verify their willingness to be recorded for later review and clearly explain what you’ll be doing with the recording once your session has ended.

2. Conduct a fact-based interview (20 min)

Once you’ve set the stage with your interviewee, it’s time to get things rolling.

Begin the conversation by introducing your initial idea in the form it’s currently in. It could be a brochure, a diagram, a series of sketches, a high-fidelity clickable mobile prototype, etc. No matter what it is, put that in front of the person you’re talking to.

The important thing to remember is that you’re NOT explaining what they are looking at when it’s introduced. Instead you want to simply say…

“Tell me what you’re currently looking at.”

That’s it. Don’t offer anything more than that.

The rationale behind this is simple. You want to emulate what a person is going to do if you’re not there with your product, service or idea. You want o lean into ‘objective questioning’, where you’re trying to measure their understanding of what they’re looking at and what it reminds them of.

Keep in mind that follow-up questions are extremely important with objective questioning. Once the person gives their initial statement (or run-on sentence) of what they see, you’re going to want to dig deeper. Here are some examples:

Olivia: “I see a brochure for creating a four-step sketch.”
Me: “What’s a four step-sketch?”
Olivia: “I don’t know yet.”

Olivia: “Is this a webinar to learn this?”
Me: “What do you think?”
Olivia: “I think it is. It says it up there at the top.”

Olivia: “I don’t see a list of what I’m going to learn in the course.”
Me: “What kind of list?”
Olivia: “You know… something that has a syllabus of what we’re going learn.”

Whatever you do, DO NOT give them any answers to their questions. Even if they’re completely confused, stuck, frustrated or losing interest, refrain from giving them any insight into the nature of what you’ve created.

If your interviewee tries to ask clarifying questions to better understand what they are seeing, don’t help them. Instead, use the phrase ‘What do you think?’ (per the second example above) to move the conversation back to their perspective. Remember, you’re seeking their understanding of the content, purpose and intended audience for your idea.

You can also consider the following questions to further clarify their understanding of the idea, product or service they are looking at.

  • So, what is this?
  • What do you think it’s for?
  • Who do you think it’s for?
  • What does this remind you of?
  • Have you seen something like this before?
  • If you were to describe this to someone you know, what would you say?

3. Asking for a commitment

The last question you ask is the most important.

Depending on what you’re asking for in return for your product service, this last question could take many forms. But no matter what it is, you will be requesting a bit of commitment to acquire what you’re showing them.

“If you’re interested in getting updates on this as we update it, can I get your phone number and personal email address?”

“Would you willing to sign this non-binding letter of agreement to attend this webinar in the future?”

“Would you be interested in signing up for this webinar right now for $49 USD?”

“This 60 minute co-creation session is part of a larger course on design sprints that’s currently in beta. Would you be interested in paying $699 USD for the full course today for early access into some of the coursework we create?”

If your market engagement model includes other benefits (100% satisfaction guarantee or your money back, 24/7 email support, free updates, etc.), be sure to include those as part of your ask for money, time or personal information.

Depending on their response, you’ll likely encounter one of these scenarios:

  1. If your interviewee agrees to purchase, sign a letter of intent or give you some personal information, be prepared to simulate that transaction. Don’t just make up a hypothetical that their transaction is being processed… simulate the actual transaction your original hypothesis asks for.

    And remember, you aren’t actually taking any money or holding them to a real commitment. Just don’t reveal anything until the end of your interview.
  2. If your interviewee does not agree to a commitment, ask “why not?”
    Their answer can a myriad of reasons. They might not have enough money, have other commitments, are just looking, need to see a use case, not interested in the product, horoscope told them not to buy anything this month, etc. However the answer is explained, it’s a ‘No’.

    And that’s okay!

    What matters is that they’ve given you a value-based judgement on what you’ve presented them. Just note what their response is, ask a few clarifying questions, and you’re all set.

4. Wrapping it up (10+ min)

In the last part of your interview, you’ll be coming back to a friendly chat with your interviewee to explore their thoughts and feelings about the product, service or idea you presented.

Here are a few sample questions to help bring your session to a close:

  1. What was your overall impression of what you experienced today?
  2. What were some of the highlights that you remember?
  3. What didn’t make much sense?
  4. What are some things that need to improve?
  5. If you could change one thing with what you experienced, what would it be?
  6. Do you know of another person we should interview about this product/service/idea?

This would also be an opportune time to let your interviewee know that any transactions they did during your interview were simulated. You didn’t really take their money or plan on using their information for anything beyond the conversation you’re having with them.

You can offer to keep in touch if you plan on building your final pretotype into a real product… especially for those that were ready to buy, sign up or give you their personal information to get it.

Finally, be sure to send a follow-up email to your interviewee thanking them for their time after your session ends. You can include links to the video and the transcription if you have them available.

Now it’s your turn!

Once you find that ideal person for your idea, service or product, schedule an hour to speak with them about it. Follow the framework above to show your pretotype to your interviewee… and see if they both understand and comprehend what it is and who it’s for. If the end up giving you some ‘skin in the game’, you might be on the right track! 😊

In Step 5, we’ll be finalizing our hypothesis and getting ready to build our experiment for our intended audiences. We’re getting to the fun stuff now! 🎉

If you enjoyed the article or found it worthwhile, please share it with others. Otherwise, leave a comment and let me know what you thought!



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Robert Skrobe

Robert Skrobe

I run Dallas Design Sprints, The Design Sprint Referral Network and Talent Sprints.