A Crash Course in User Interview Technique

Accidents happen. Important people in product teams get the flu. Airplanes get delayed. Sometimes you just can’t make it to the user interview you had scheduled. User interviews are a vital part of understanding your users and gives you an outside perspective on how to improve the user experience (UX) of you service.

A simple solution to unfortunate situations — that may or may not include being delayed at Reykjavik’s airport — is to teach your teammates the techniques required to perform a solid user interview or usability test, so they can step in for you.

The following list contains a few tips and tricks to get the most useful data you can from user interviews.

  • A user interview can differ from a journalistic interview in the sense that UX Researchers are not looking for particular answer. In journalism, leading questions can be an effective way of getting a conversation going, but those questions will not help you figure out what can be improved with your product. There aren’t wrong or right answers so it’s important to ask as neutral questions as possible.
  • Make sure users understand that you are interested in their reasoning. When you ask an interviewee to think aloud, a common reaction is to apologize for what they think or censor their thoughts. Don’t hesitate to ask the interviewee to expand on their reasoning. There are no wrong answers in usability testing!
A user interview differs from a journalistic interview in the sense that UX Researchers are not looking for a particular answer.
  • It can be very tempting to interrupt users, to help them or to fill an awkward silence. But when you give users time to think or let an awkward silence go unbroken, users will often fill it themselves in surprising ways. They often offer up extra information or repeat what they just said but in better wording. Useful!
  • If you ask users to carry out a scenario, ask them to share their screen.
  • Humans tend to think they are rational beings; unfortunately we aren’t. Making sense of our behavior isn’t always so easy. Therefore, when we try to explain our own behavior, we tend to rationalize it. We commonly state things like, “I always read the entire article if it is about a topic I’m interested in,” or, “I always make informed decisions when I buy something.” Trying to see patterns where there aren’t any is a very human trait. So be cautious of the possibility that users might come to false conclusions about their own behaviour. This will help you when you analyze the material afterwards.
  • When you ask someone to perform a task, like navigate to a Mic article page, and talk you through their first impression, pay attention to what they say, but also what they do. Most users don’t like saying when they feel insecure, uncertain or confused. Observing users’ behavior and noticing where they stumble will give you great hints about what needs to be addressed in your product.
  • I use Lookback to record interviews. It records the screen, sound and person sitting in front of the computer. It’s great for interviews when your subject is in the room with you! (I’ll write an entire post on my setup for online video interviews soon.)
  • Take notes! Even if you record the session, the upload might fail or the file might corrupt. Make sure to take notes with pen and paper so your recording isn’t full of typing noises. Also, physical notes will make it easier for you to find interview highlights again, since you can browse through them faster than a video.
The cute kind of stupid. Also, I’m positive that being a Pokémon will help.
  • A good strategy to get people talking is to be happy, curious and a little stupid. By downplaying your own understanding (just a little), the user will feel more comfortable being honest.
  • Don’t say aha, mhm or any other encouraging words when users are talking. Verbal encouragement too early in a user’s thought process can accidentally lead users down a path they might not actually believe.
  • At the end of the interview, thank the user profusely and give them a reward that makes the time they spent in the interview feel worthwhile. At Mic we give users a gift certificate to make sure they know that we value their input.

Yay you for getting this far! You get a virtual high five and a pass to browse cute gifs for five minutes.

For more UX tips and tricks follow me and Mic Product on Twitter!

Big Sean flying, exactly like my airplane did not.
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