17 tips for successful user research interviews

Per Englund
Feb 1, 2017 · 7 min read
Image for post
Image for post

I wanted to write a simple but hopefully useful guide to conducting user research interviews. This is not meant to be an exhaustive list nor a post delving into the importance of doing user research in any/every project. I sincerely hope the latter is understood by you and the people you work with.

Now this guide has been written with a focus on interviews in a ‘typical’ discovery project. But I believe and hope it can be of use to you in other projects where you get the chance to do some research interviews with your users.

1 — Introduction: Always provide your interviewee with a helpful introduction. It might sound so obvious that you sometimes forget about it. But it really helps to give context about yourself, your work but also to start the session softer and ease your way into the more important questions

2 — Always record the session if possible: Obviously this should only be done with the permission from the interviewee. Both audio and video if agreed and possible. Audio is more important if you had to choose, to make sure you don’t miss or misinterpret anything. Video is a great bonus. You can’t beat the power of having a real user talking about a real problem.
- This means that you should probably think about recording audio and video footage separately. (I used one of these https://www.zoom.co.jp/products/handy-recorder/h2n-handy-recorder)
- Oh yeah, make sure it’s actually recording and that you have enough space available on the memory card.

Image for post
Image for post

3 — Consent is key: I’m not going to write lengthy about this, but please make sure that you take time to explain what the research is for, and what it will be used for. So get some consent forms and NDAs if needed and make sure the person is ok and that they have understood what’s actually written on them (read more about consent forms here: http://www.userfocus.co.uk/articles/what_user_researchers_ought_to_know_about_informed_consent.html)

4 — Keep your findings open and visible: This is really helpful to have during interviews. To spark new conversations, get some crucial feedback or just in general to attract and recruit new users. If you have a physical space you should make full use of the walls, boards and anything else that’s around. If you don’t have a dedicated space then make sure you’ve got some other physical bits like printouts, sketches or perhaps any designs on that you’ve got on your computer/phone.

Image for post
Image for post

5 — Be visible: As important and useful it can be to have your work and findings visible, it’s the same for yourself and your team. Especially when work in a new environment with people you’ve never worked with before. Get yourself out there, be seen and heard, immerse yourself into this new world you’re trying to understand. You will gain plenty by quickly winning people’s interest in you and your work. In a friendly and non-intrusive manner of course.

6 — Always note down the timings: You will thank yourself (or your partner in crime) later. When you do take notes write down the timings when someone said something useful or interesting. This will help you and others to find those bit much quicker.
- With that in mind it’s very helpful to have a partner in crime when conducting interviews. This could be anyone in your team. It really helps as that person could be the one capturing the notes, and make sure nothing important is missed.

Image for post
Image for post

7 — Write up: After your interviews make sure you take time to summarise them and write up your notes so they are in good shape. Do it when it’s fresh in your mind. Spare 30 minutes if you can. After a long day full of interviews, there’s the odd chance that they might merge somewhat. Often you will need more than 30 minutes to fully summarise an interview. Especially if you have recorded footage to work with as well.

Image for post
Image for post

8 — Think about the context and environment: There are good reasons for conducting interviews at different locations depending on the type and purpose of the interview. Sometimes having it at the home of your interviewee will be most useful. In other cases it might be better to have it at their workplace or perhaps in a public location that has some sort of importance/trigger effect.

9 — Build a network of advocates: I suggest you make full use of the people who have taken time to help you. Perhaps they could help recruiting more users for interviews, or give them additional research activities such as diary studies or invite them to come back for further feedback when your insights are in a shape where it could be shared. Keeping them involved as you move forward with this project will come in handy. They can be your best advocates as well when selling your insights into various stakeholders.

10 — Mix it up: Not every interview needs to be conducted in the same way. Try different formats. Maybe you could get them to sketch the answers, or you could bring a designer with you that illustrates some of the concepts and issues they’re talking about. Or maybe you can bring some things that could spark the conversation or are somehow relevant to the interview. Or perhaps a group interview will add some different insights.

11 — Time for thinking: Another obvious but important thing is to set time aside during the day of interviews for some analysis of the work. Perhaps you’ve started to note some patterns that are worth delving further into for later interviews. Or maybe some of the questions you have used is causing confusion amongst your users. So make sure you take time to breath and analyse or your work is in the risk of getting sloppy.

Image for post
Image for post

12 — Research fatigue: Be wary of research fatigue. Now I know I just mentioned that you might have a full day of interviews for certain projects. Because sometimes you find yourself with little time to spare when doing research so you’re forced to conduct interviews back-to-back. I understand that, but with a raised warning finger I want to inform you of the risk of losing the quality and findings from your interviews if you don’t take breaks every now and then in-between them.

13 — Keep your list of questions alive: I’m assuming you have one (list of questions), in whatever format that best suits you. But do keep it alive and update it if necessary. As you learn more about the users, the problems, the opportunities, etc you probably need to update your original questions.

14 — Snacks: Yes it’s a given that you should bring snacks with you to every research session. You want to create an open and friendly environment where people feel relaxed.

Image for post
Image for post
The holy grail of research snacks?

15 — Everyone can be useful: For every user researcher there are times when the interviews just don’t seem to give you anything new or validate anything you were unsure of. But don’t give up. There might be other ways that the person could help you with — Maybe they could help you recruit new users, or ____. It can also help you understand if you’re asking the right question.

16 — Recap: Recap with the user. If you have time over in the end it might be a good idea to do a quick summary of you talked about and key highlights. If you don’t have any time over then it’s not a bad idea to do this via email. Send over a note thanking for their time and share your summary. This will also give you the opportunity to extract more insights which might have been missed at the interview for whatever reason.

17 — Wrap up: As important it is to start with a good introduction it is to end the interview in a good way. Thank them for their time and contribution. And be open with what is going to happen next. Maybe there will be an opportunity for them to come back for a second interview, or to view the work in a later stage of the project. And don’t forget that if you conducted the interview successfully they can be your most important advocate.

Image for post
Image for post

And who can forget the importance of always keeping a bunch of sharpies and post-it notes around. But don’t get these weird pop-up notes.

They suck.

We have been lucky at Fluxx to work with a wide range of clients both in the private and public sector. And for every one of them good user research has always been the key to creating better brands, more confident colleagues and happier users.

You might also enjoy: 13 things Louis Theroux can teach us about user research and How to use empathy in design without killing millions of women

Previously: Why do police in this Canadian town hand out tickets for good driving?

Per Englund work at Fluxx, a company that uses design research to understand customers, helping clients to build better products. We work with organisations such as Atkins, National Grid, the Parliamentary Digital Service and William Hill.

Medium is an open platform where 170 million readers come to find insightful and dynamic thinking. Here, expert and undiscovered voices alike dive into the heart of any topic and bring new ideas to the surface. Learn more

Follow the writers, publications, and topics that matter to you, and you’ll see them on your homepage and in your inbox. Explore

If you have a story to tell, knowledge to share, or a perspective to offer — welcome home. It’s easy and free to post your thinking on any topic. Write on Medium

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store