If people could articulate the happenings in the past like the ancient, intimate tradition of oral storytelling, there would never be a thing called a failed interview.
User interview is an essential and powerful tool to gather insights during the discovery phase of a project. Interviewing users, hearing their epic stories help us gain a deeper understanding of user behaviour and the many reasons why.
Interview sessions can be applied during the research process or even during the usability testing process, there’s no hard and fast rule to how and when an interview should be conducted. Not all interviews will be a success, but this is how I conduct my interviews:
1. You need to relax
User interviews are commonly conducted in a formal setting—a cold, empty and quiet room. A place like that can make most people uncomfortable and unsettled. The usual tip is to make your interviewee relax, but in actual scenario, being relaxed starts with you.
Put on your smile and greet your interviewee like a friend. Speak their language, start sharing things about yourself first will help to ease the awkwardness and make the interviewee more relaxed and less conscious.
2. Basic introduction and whatnot
Lay the ground of the research study. The interviewee needs to know what they are here for and their help will be valuable inputs for your study. And always let them know there’s no right or wrong to their answers.
3. Prepare a script, but with pointers for quick reference
It’s good to draft a script to get an idea of what types of questions you would be asking. Scripting also allows you to rephrase leading or close-ended questions. Too many Yes or No questions does not lead to a good conversation which will cause the interview session to turn stale in an instant.
Most of the time, conversations with the interviewee does not follow the flow of your script. Scripts crafted may be wordy and not as conversational as you thought it should be and this may be the start of lost in translation. My way of avoiding this is to always prepare a summarisation of the script in short pointers for easy referencing.
4. Be that inquisitive kid again
The only way to dig further is always to ask “Why?”. To elicit a better story or a deeper understanding, it is always a must to probe. Ask more questions to clarify, ask who, what, when, where, why, and how. Go ahead and be that inquisitive kid again.
Shut up and listen—it’s okay to have that awkward silence. Or actually more than okay. Silence could mean that your interviewee is processing his/her thoughts. Interrupting them might break their chain of thought and you can forget about hearing a robust story.
6. From negative to positive experiences
The stories we harped on over and over again tend to focus on the negative or unexpected experiences. We recount negative/unexpected experiences better than the good ones. Strange it may sound, but there are physiological as well as psychological reasons for this.
“Negative emotions generally involve more thinking, and the information is processed more thoroughly than positive ones. Thus, we tend to ruminate more about unpleasant events — and use stronger words to describe them — than happy ones.” -Nass in Tugend, 2012
Asking the user to recount negative experience is a way to get them to keep talking and share deeper insights.
7. Put on your acting skills
Real enthusiasm or fake enthusiasm, whichever it is, be eager, curious and fascinated with the stories you hear. Make eye contact and acknowledge at various points throughout the interview to let them know you are listening.
It’s more than words,
It’s more than what you say,
It’s the things you do.
Conducting an user interview is more than hearing the words they say. There are times when their words are said to paint a beautiful picture. Observe their body language to know if they are tired, interested, happy, nervous, upset, rolling their eyes or even laughing. Don’t hesitate to probe further about how they are feeling at that moment.