User interviews are focused on understanding a user's motivations and needs. By understanding their mind better, we can improve the product's UX.
How to run a good interview
The interviewing process needs to be carefully executed to gain unbiased feedback.
- Gather your interview subjects in advance. Check out the tips below for finding users, and also our Lean Validation Playbook for fast recruitment.
- A user interview will probably be about 30 minutes long.
- It's best to have an interviewer and an observer for the session. The interviewer communicates to the user while the observer take notes.
Tips for getting better learning
- Encourage storytelling. Once you succeed in encouraging storytelling, you can get far better insights into the problems your users are facing. Storytelling allows the user to talk about her feelings—which is great for understanding her deeper motivations. The more detail she can provide, the more information you will have—and the better the design decisions you will be able to make.
- Avoid a fixed set of questions. It’s a conversation, not an interrogation. Just as the best type of job interviews should be, anyway. You’re not trying to test the person—you’re trying to understand as much as possible about them. Learning how to drive a conversation and build empathy with the user is not easy. There are a lot of good examples of this in the book by David and Tom Kelley of IDEO: Creative Confidence, which talks about design thinking.
- Don’t ask people what they want. There is a huge amount of literature that explains why this is a bad idea. Avoid speculative questions: they are not going to tell you much about the user’s real needs and goals. People can’t tell you what they want and they are mostly unable to spot their struggles and difficulties too. They can tell you what they are trying to achieve and what their goals are. And that’s enough for you to design solutions for their problems.
- Don’t make the user a designer. Avoid asking the user to draw screens for you. If he or she suggests modification to the design, gently ask what the reason for this modification is, and what problem it would solve. This allows you to understand your user’s motivation and thought process more deeply and to figure out the best design for their needs.
- Avoid leading questions. All of us have hypotheses and assumptions. These should be left far behind. You need to make sure you are not suggestive with your questions. This would result in false results, which are really harmful. Try to ask open-ended questions so you can avoid accidentally suggesting an answer. Instead of asking “How difficult do you find it to use feature X?”, ask “What’s your impression of using feature X?”
- Don’t go too much into details. User interviews should be about the user and their goals. Going into details might sound like a good idea at first, but it will typically just lead to endless conversation. It is also the perfect way to turn the user into a designer and get them to avoid storytelling–which is exactly the opposite of what you want! Just make sure you take one step back, whenever you find yourself getting too deep into the details.
- Pay attention to body language. Some people might find it hard to express themselves, so paying attention to their body language is a great idea to get more insight into how they feel. If you can recognise discomfort or tension on your user’s face, or in their body language, you can ask better questions. If you are unfamiliar with body language, I’d recommend reading The Definitive Book for Body Language, which is a great start.
How to find users to interview
Recruiting people from our own network
This is the most casual way to find people: simply reach out friends, contacts and family on Facebook or any IM application and ask if they could join for a 20-30 mins call. But note:
- Make sure you're getting unbiased, uninfluenced feedback. There is a risk when using personal connections, that they won't be totally reliable subjects, because they know you personally.
- Try not to ask the same subjects repeatedly, even just because you'll annoy them if you do so.
- Remember: fellow UX professionals are not necessarily the typical user you need to be interviewing. They think differently!
Recruiting through PingPong
We built PingPong because we were frustrated at how complex it was to arrange user interviews. PingPong is a SaaS product which lets you search by user demographic and criteria and then send out invitations to people to participate in online testing of your product.
Of course, we'd recommend it!
- Steve Portigal's Interviewing Users: How to Uncover Compelling Insights is a great read and has a lot of information. Contact a Shipmate if you need a copy!
- Jakob Nielsen has a good overview and some tips in his article on Interviewing Users.