Conduct user interviews

1. Create a research plan that includes the following sections: Background information, Goals, Methodology, Participants, and Schedule for interviews.

Include why you’re doing the research, what information you hope to obtain, how you’ll conduct the interviews, and the sort of people you want to talk to. Focus on discovering problems at first, rather than being certain you know what the problem is.

2. Formulate a hypothesis about each of your goals.

For example, the hypothesis could be what you believe you already know about your users and their behavior, or what you believe their preferred solution to a problem is.

3. Create an interview guide with sections for Introduction, Primary questions, Predictive questions, and Conclusion.

Introduction: Logistics and getting to know the user’s background. Main Body: Your primary list of questions. Projection Questions: Discuss predictions for the future and ideal scenarios. Conclusion: Wrap things up, anything you didn’t cover. Add an estimated time of response for every section of the interview.

4. Use the Participants section of your research plan to select users that can help you answer your hypothesis.

Decide whether you need to interview former, current, or potential users in your interview. For example, if you want to know why your business has fewer active users, you can interview former users.

5. Write a list of 5-6 screening interview questions and conduct a screening to filter out participants that don't fit your user group.

For example, if you want to find out how users purchase and listen to music from your store, ask them when they last bought music if they listen to it daily or less than once a month. Dismiss users that don’t fit into your category and use the remaining participants for the main interview.

6. Write short open-ended questions based on your goals and participant characteristics.

Allow participants to share their own feedback using their own words. Start your questions with Who, What, Where, When, Why, or How. Consider including tasks like, Draw a map of…, Create a new…, Change the style of…, Show me how you…, and role-plays like, I’ll be the customer, you be the support rep…

7. Treat the participant as the expert when you write and ask questions.

If you’re familiar with Full Catastrophe Living by Jon Kabat-Zinn, you’re familiar with the seven attitudes of mindfulness, which can be very useful in developing the right attitude to user interviews. Non-judging: Taking the stance of an impartial witness. Patience: Letting things unfold in their own time. Beginner’s Mind: Being receptive to new possibilities… not getting stuck in a rut of our own expertise. Trust: Developing a basic trust in yourself and your feelings. Non-Striving: Paying attention to how you are right now, however that it is. Just watch. Acceptance: We often waste a lot of time and energy denying what is fact. Letting Go: Giving up pre-existing desires and expectations.

8. Assign two researchers to participate in the interview to capture audio, environment data, body language, and take photographs or video.

You need to capture exactly what was said. Summaries and estimations are not enough. Notes are not enough. They are good for processing and making note of necessary follow-up questions, but they aren’t detailed enough to serve as the official record of the interview. Take lots of pictures. There will be things you don’t remember noticing or didn’t notice at all. Pictures can help bridge the gap. For the best results, use a combination of audio, video, and written notes.

9. Create a new section in your research plan to list alternatives for when interviews need to be conducted online or when users are not as talkative.

If interviews take place online, ask participants to take pictures of their surroundings, and screen record the session. Identify if participants are less talkative and switch places with the other researcher to match their communication style. If the participant seems to be going off-topic, let them finish their story or tangent and then ask a question that redirects them back to your original question.

10. Analyze your data by identifying areas of interest in the interview answers and what else needs to be asked to reach a conclusion.