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A UX Researcher's toolbox includes a variety of frameworks and methodologies to get the job done. What sets great researchers apart from others is knowing how to use these tools effectively.
Engaging with users in a structured environment requires a great deal of finesse and empathy in the art of asking questions.
Earlier stages of research can get ambiguous and opaque. Hence, forming a design hypothesis along with a research goal helps define the requirements of your research study. Ideally, you would want to expedite the process with a clear goal in mind and stakeholders be fully informed and onboard with the UX process.
Here’s how you can be prepared throughout the stages of user interviews.
WHAT TO DO BEFORE:
1. Prepping Questions
It is tempting to just wing it with the questions when a participant is at your disposal. However, this is not a talk show segment where the live audience applause on demand at expected funny bits. But in a way, it’s somewhat similar to a talk show interview; you would want to make your participants at ease and comfortable communicating their thoughts with you in a relaxed manner. Having a thoughtfully produced question is the first step in making the conversation intentional and meaningful.
Illustrative example by Kimberly Mak
⭐️ Tip: Stick to a sequence of question structure with all of your participants. This tip is often overlooked but it will come in handy reviewing your post-interview notes and you’re not able to make out insights or comparative analysis when the questions vary with your participants.
2. Note-Taking Setup
It may seem counterintuitive and trivial thinking about note-taking at this stage.
Quoting the great mind of Vilfredo Pareto,
“roughly 80% of the effects come from 20% of the causes.”
The Pareto Principle has been adopted in various industries and working practices to increase efficiency and optimize results. Organizing the way you take notes makes it easier for you and others to collaborate on your research document. Your approach to note-taking is dependent on the structure of your interview questions.
For example, if you have several questions aiming to understand a user’s process in accomplishing a task, those questions may be grouped under a category titled Behaviour or Getting Things Done. Thus, making it easier to analyse all of your interview data as a whole.
⭐️ Tip: The majority of your mental bandwidth could be channeled into reviewing and reflecting post-interviews while it’s still fresh in your mind, so try your best not to divert effort and energy on tidying up notes.
3. Recruit Participants
Recruiting participants is the most crucial element to your research study. There is no right or wrong way to find your users—it’s about finding the most suitable group of participants to learn from. Hence, screening your participants is the best way to filter out candidates with the ideal combination suited to your research goals.
So, how exactly do you identify which group of users to reach out to especially when you have none? If you want to uncover interesting insights fast, speak with your extreme users. It's a common approach in research studies to speak with their direct consumers, but sometimes these results can be quite one-dimensional as it only enables our confirmation bias.
On the other hand, speaking with regular users has its merit as well. It’s a fitting approach when you are seeking validations or assumptions of the product.
For example, if your goal is to learn why people leave their gym membership?
You may approach it with these 3 subsets of user groups to start off with.
Illustrative example by Kimberly Mak
⭐️ Tip: Interview your user groups in batches to gain and compare insights. I would recommend starting off with 5 to 7 candidates per interview batch. Conducting batch interviews gives you time to learn and enhance the questions based on the findings from your preliminary interviews.
4. Pre-Interview Briefing
Equipped with a series of questions and participants lined up for your interview, there are 2 main people to brief—your participants and team members.
Briefing participants before the interview helps set a clear expectation of the session, especially when they are not familiar with the concept of user interviews.
Your briefing should include basic info such as:
- what to expect,
- purpose of the session,
- how will the data will be used,
- length of interview,
- who will be involved,
- consent to interview recordings (if any).
Depending on the status of audio and video recordings consent from participants, you may include a reminder that recordings will be carried out or an emphasis that recordings will be exempted as they have opted-out for it. Here’s an example of how you can draft a pre-interview briefing:
⭐️ Tip: If you are working in a team, give a rundown of the itinerary and be sure to assign roles during the interview. An ideal set up would be having 1 person leading the interview and 1 other person recording observational notes on a shared document.
WHAT TO DO DURING:
1. Build Rapport
Establishing a safe and communicative space with your users in a short amount of time might sound like a social nightmare to some. Nevertheless, trust that with efficient preparation as guided above, you are now putting those mindfully orchestrated ideas into motion.
Welcome participants with a few housekeeping reminders that they are not in a test nor being tested on. It’s always good to emphasize there are no right or wrong answers in a session like this to encourage an effective dialogue.
⭐️ Tip: Always anticipate a few inquisitive participants with their own set of curiosities. They may want to further probe on questions which will result in revealing too much of the research study and we won’t want to work off skewed data. Try your best to moderate the question back to them without coloring in your own experience.
2. Open-ended Questions
Sometimes open-ended questions are more complex than they should be.
For example, if the question’s intention is to find out why users are not engaging with your fitness app, there are multitudes of layers you can go about achieving that sole question without prompting leading questions as shown below.
Illustrative example by Kimberly Mak
⭐️ Tip: When in doubt, try asking questions that recall an experience. Resist the urge to give pointers about your own similar experience if your participants are having a difficult time elaborating their answers. It helps reduce biased thinking in their communication.
3. Recordings of Interview
Digital recordings help you to avoid experiencing the Misinformation Effect, especially when you have a number of interviews scheduled on the same day and recalling the memory of those sessions gets nebulous as time prolonges.
Here’s the breakdown of how the human memory works and why is it important as a researcher:
In the context of user research, Encoding works when you are learning new information from participants and is now received into your memory. However, that doesn’t mean what has learnt is safely stored.
Storing information and retaining it depends on how well your brain connects new information to existing knowledge. Hence, processing interview data is crucial in making connections to form actionable insights.
As a researcher, presenting and advocating for users is essential in our daily work conversation. This process is called Retrieval—presenting user insights with half-formed data doesn’t make them very convincing in front of stakeholders.
⭐️ Tip: I would highly recommend video recordings especially if you’re a solo researcher conducting the entire interview. It will come in handy to produce a highly convincing and captivating report with actual snippets of user testimonials to your team. As always, seek permission from users before any recordings.
4. Debrief Participants
10 minutes before the time is up, that’s your cue to descend the tone of the interview to a closing narrative. The remaining time can either provide you with last minute valuable insights or a neutral closing.
Debriefing can simply start off with questions such as:
And this can go both ways as well, anything that has piqued your interest can be formed as a follow-up question to sneak in to the remaining time left, if there’s any.
⭐️ Tip: Shh! The power of silence will matter the most in these remaining minutes, however do not force it if participants seem eager to leave the session. Staying completely quiet about 4 seconds after posing a question or hearing the first few lines of response not only encourages people to accessorize on their previous thoughts, but it also gives them more speaking time to dig deeper.
WHAT TO DO AFTER:
1. Post-Interview Ritual
After engaging with a user, regardless if it's a user testing or a contextual inquiry, taking a few minutes to reflect on the session can be a healthy practice especially if you’re regularly conducting sessions like these.
You will have your own unique approach to this segment. The main goal is to take a few moments alone to add-on any final observations while it’s still ingrained in your memory. It may also come in the form of a few problem statements or recurring themes that you had noticed.
Usually, those immediate thoughts formulating in your post-interview session will seem a little jumbled but try not to dismiss it. Record any first-hand observations as it just happened. If you were working with a teammate, confer with them on your observations and learnings.
⭐️ Tip: Disciplined time management will get you through a day of user interviews. Consider a minimum of 15 minutes buffer between each session to reset.
2. UX Debriefing
After all of the interviews and observations have been carried out, schedule a time for you and your team to enter a space for debriefing. Debriefing is meant to be carried out in an informal environment. It’s a conversation to learn from each other’s experience and improve the fundamental UX process as a team.
To increase team alignment, be sure to have a recap spotlighting feedback gathered from each teammate. Utilising what you have learned from each other and applying it to your methodology and process.
⭐️ Tip: Encourage teammates to come prepared with their feedback on what went well or what could have done better. It’s also important to take time celebrating successes and factors that contribute to it.
3. Synthesising Time
Time to look at what you have uncovered from all the Q’s and A’s with your user. It’s also a good mark to be reminded of your research objective as you sift through the data identifying patterns and connecting them to insights. At this moment, your data is in scattered particles waiting to turn into full formed shapes. Data is only useful when it’s linked to valuable information, hence turning them into actionable insights.
Unpacking the raw data into groupings or better known as Affinity Diagram is the first step in organizing what you have gathered. Only then any insights or stories can be extracted with a clearly mapped out approach. From then onwards, your process will look different from others depending on projects gaps and user needs to fill. So, you may end up hashing out previously gathered information with other framework processes to chisel a well-formed story and actionable insight.
Illustrative example by Kimberly Mak
⭐️ Tip: Open up your process of data analyzing with different members of the team. Bringing in new perspectives increases the chances of uncovering new insights. Furthermore, if you’re experiencing a few roadblocks, interviewing stakeholders and PM’s acts as a useful checkpoint.
Speaking with users helps you to either validate or challenge your assumptions about your products or services. User interviews are just one of many methods to help you uncover gaps between your users and products. It’s tempting to jump into solution mode but it doesn’t provide long-term or high-value ideas if we don’t know which problems to solve. To know more on how you can build features your customers need click here
UXArmy can accelerate your UX initiatives by helping you recruit relevant and quality participants for your projects. Learn more about User Recruitment here
Kimberly is a guest author for UXArmy and a seasoned UX practitioner with deep experience using visual storytelling to solve complex problems. She develops frameworks to help teams and stakeholders in bridging the gap of design, tech and people. Previously, Kim has helped launch Brunei’s first independent fintech solution.
This article was originally written for UXArmy in February 2021 by Kimberly Mak.
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