User interviews help us craft better experiences by enabling us to learn about our audience’s needs and problems. Like any other UX research method, user interviews take some time to master. Here at Sparkbox, we had a workshop with Neenah Ellis to help us become better interviewers. Neenah Ellis is an NPR veteran producer, author, and former general manager of WYSO, Dayton’s NPR member station, and is now the executive director at The Eichelberger Center for Community Voices. The center’s mission is to help storytellers of all ages and backgrounds learn to interview and produce audio and digital stories. She shared some of her methods for us to be able to better connect with interviewees and inspired us all to become better listeners and interviewers. Foremost, a good interviewer will make the user feel comfortable enough to share what they know.
Below is a collection of tips and techniques from Neenah Ellis and from our own experience interviewing users.
1. Interview at Least 2 People (or More)
Don’t get too caught up by the number of people you interview, because even two people can give you enough insightful data. The benefit of interviewing at least two people is that you’ll be able to compare the information provided and establish trends within your accumulated data, and if the findings are divergent you will have more justification for further research. If time and budget allows, you should definitely interview more people to get a better understanding of perspectives within your audience, but don’t get caught up in thinking that if you can’t talk to five or 10 users, it’s not worth talking to a couple of people.
We know it can be hard to find people to interview. We have a resource to help you find and recruit user research participants. Check it out!
2. Plan Ahead
If you want to incorporate user interviews as your primary user research method, I would highly recommend planning ahead of time—even for unstructured interviews. Think about what your goals and objectives are. For example, what do you want to gain from these interviews? Once you have your goals and objectives, create a strong set of questions or a discussion guide to help steer the conversation to ensure you gather the information you need. Creating a discussion guide is also really helpful for you to stay on track and make sure you have a successful interview. If you plan ahead of time, you will feel more confident to gather the right information from these interviews.
3. Make It a Conversation
As you plan and go through the interview, it’s important to be mindful of making your interviewee feel comfortable. Throughout the interview, you can let your interviewee know how well they’re doing and how valuable the information they’re providing is. As you plan your questions and discussion guide, I would recommend aiming for making both of them flow in a way that feels like it’s a conversation rather than a formal interview. People usually enjoy talking about their experiences, just be sure to create a space in which they feel comfortable in sharing that information with you.
4. Ask Open-ended Questions
Ideally, you want your questions to be answered with rich information. Make sure to avoid yes or no questions as they will most likely not give you valuable data. Instead, ask open-ended questions that are thought provoking so your user will give you more information about the thing you’re looking for.
5. Learn to Listen
Whenever you’re doing an interview, you want to make sure you’re actively listening. Many times we focus on getting the interview right or asking as many questions as we can, but the most important part is that you’re paying attention to what your user is actually telling you. You could gain a very valuable piece of information that can be useful later on for your research or it could even stir the direction of your current conversation.
6. Put Away Your Notebook
A technique Neenah Ellis shared to help focus your listening was to put away your question list and your notebook. You’ve prepared, so you know your goals and your questions. Being focused entirely on your interview subject is easier when you’re not looking at your list of questions or frantically taking notes. Pull out your notebook at the end, and look for questions you might have missed. Then ask them!
7. Document Your Interview
With all of the different types of user interviews, you want to make sure you’re keeping documentation. You could take notes during the interview, but that may draw your focus away from your interviewee. Ask if you can record the interview. By recording your interview you’re able to pay more attention to the conversation that you’re having with your user and not be distracted by needing to take notes. Make sure to ask the user for permission to record the interview. When you record your interview you can always reference your recording and take more notes from it as needed.
Users Are Key
User interviews can be a great tool to gather valuable information for our projects. They allow us to make decisions that are supported by unbiased data. I hope these techniques enable you to conduct better interviews and feel more confident tackling them. At the end of the day, users are the key to creating better products and experiences, so let’s make sure we’re being thankful for their valuable information. Let’s create a space in which they feel comfortable sharing their experiences with us.