User interviews Demystified

Often user research is associated with a whole lot of complex sounding methodologies, like

Anecdote circle
Behavioral mapping
Body storming
Cognitive walkthrough
Context mapping
Ethnographic interview
Focus Group interview

But what does this jargon mean at the end of the day? Steve Portigal, author of “Interviewing Users” emphasizes that, no matter where you are in the design process, there really is just one “methodology” that you ought to follow. Speak to users.

When should I speak to users?
Newsflash! You can speak to potential users anytime during the design process! There have been times when our clients came over with a bunch of wireframes. The client wanted to test an idea with those wires. In other instances, we’ve had designers over with a few unrelated screenshots of proposed mobile applications. The user interviews that followed, resulted in design decisions that shaped products.

How do I speak to users?
So, do you need to have a formal education in design or psychology to interview users? Nada. Anyone, be you a designer, developer, a business user or a product owner can be an interviewer. Good interviewing skills come from experience.  To help you along the way, I would recommend the TED Talk by Julian Treasure on how to listen better. Julian speaks about the acronym RASA, to use as a guide in communication. In Sanskrit, the ancient Indian language, RASA means “Essence”. It is completely relevant to interviewing users. So, here’s my take on the acronym.

Receive:  When you are an interviewer, watch AND listen to what the participant is doing and saying. Don’t assume you know all the answers.
Appreciate: Respond to the participant with “hmm”, “ok”, “Interesting” to show that you ARE listening. Be genuinely interested.
Summarize: Summarize themes from the research. Build a story so your stakeholders can empathize with users. Use short clips of the interview to demonstrate your themes.
Ask: Take on the role of a student rather than that of an interviewer. Ask the participant questions like, “Would you explain to me what you meant?”

What do I do with all the insights after the interviews?

Getting insights across are just as important as the interviews themselves.  The onus lies on you to get the word across to the stakeholders.  YOU are the voice of the user, so SPEAK.

There is however no such thing as an ideal report. A good report identifies issues and provides actionable recommendations.

Summarize:  Make the connections. Tell a story.  Summarise your research so that you tell a compelling story. Managers and VP’s seldom have the patience to go through pages and pages of your report, no matter how passionately you wrote it.

Include videos: Nothing is more impactful than seeing the users speak about pain points themselves. Use the videos to substantiate your story.

Include quotes: Participant quotes are more colourful and poignant than a researcher’s description of an issue. They usually drive a point home and sometimes even provide comic relief in a conference room full of grim faced executives.

Deliver the results in person: Always present your findings to your stakeholders personally.  If you spoke to participants, you will be able to effectively become the voice of the user to stakeholders.

Well like I mentioned earlier, good user interviewing comes with experience, so, don’t hesitate to get out there and ask the right questions.

Gowri Penkar