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User research: Uncovering compelling insights through interviews

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Interviewing users is undeniably one of the most valuable and commonly used user research tools. Yet sometimes we forget that it’s a skill we need to learn, because it’s based on skills we think we have (talking or even listening) and it’s not taught or reflected on.

In this workshop, we’ll consider how to frame the problem, when to use research in the design process, and the tactics for setting up a successful study. We will focus in detail on the interview itself, reviewing detailed techniques for listening and asking questions, then conclude with an engaging exercise to bring these best practices to life.

This workshop will show you how to:
Integrate mixed methods of research into solving a problem.
Develop increased empathy, a critical facet to meaningful interviews.
Derive useful results from interviews once you get participants to open up.

Published in: Design
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User research: Uncovering compelling insights through interviews

  1. 1. 1 Interviewing Users Steve Portigal @steveportigal
  2. 2. Interviewing Users 2 Click to edit Master title style
  3. 3. Interviewing Users 3 Click to edit Master title style Resources, presentations and to purchase http://rosenfeldmedia.com/books/interviewing-users/ Interviewing Users
  4. 4. Interviewing Users 4 Click to edit Master title style A diverse compilation of war stories that range from comically bizarre to astonishingly tragic, tied together with valuable lessons http://rosenfeldmedia.com/books/user-research-war- stories/ Doorbells, Danger, and Dead Batteries
  5. 5. Interviewing Users 5 Click to edit Master title style Interviews with in-house user research leaders https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/dollars-to- donuts/id956673263 Dollars to Donuts
  6. 6. Interviewing Users 6 Click to edit Master title style Problem Framing 1:30 – 1:50 Research Practices 1:50 – 2:20 Contextual Methods 2:20 – 2:40 Interviewing Best Practices 2:40 – 3:00 Break 3:00 – 3:15 Interviewing Best Practices 3:15 – 3:45 Interviewing Activity/Debrief 3:45 – 4:30 Today
  7. 7. Interviewing Users 7 Click to edit Master title style Problem Framing
  8. 8. Interviewing Users 8 Click to edit Master title styleWhat do I mean by “research?” Ethnography Ethnographic interviews Video ethnography Depth-interviews Contextual research Home visits Site visits Experience modeling Design research User research User-centered design One-on-ones Camera studies User safaris
  9. 9. Interviewing Users 9 Click to edit Master title styleWhat do I mean by “research?” Ethnography Ethnographic interviews Video ethnography Depth-interviews Contextual research Home visits Site visits Experience modeling Design research User research User-centered design One-on-ones Camera studies User safaris
  10. 10. Interviewing Users 10 Click to edit Master title styleBeyond our terminology, what are we doing? Examine people in their own context • What are they doing? • What does it mean? Infer (interpret/synthesize/etc.) • Find the connections • The researcher is the “apparatus” Apply to business or design problems • Use products, services, packaging, design to tell the right story • More possible types of solutions than we started out with
  11. 11. Interviewing Users 11 Click to edit Master title style What to make or do Refine& prototype Launch Iterate & improve Interview users throughout the development cycle Take a fresh look at people Use existing ideas as hypotheses Explore new ideas
  12. 12. Interviewing Users 12 Click to edit Master title styleThe Business Question What new products and services can you offer to help partners increase social network stickiness (and thus revenues)? What entertainment activities should you support to tap into a growing middle-class in China?
  13. 13. Interviewing Users 13 Click to edit Master title styleThe Research Question What are the motivations, successes, and frustrations for current and prospective users of our partners’ social media sites? How is family life changing in middle-class China? What are the critical digital and analog technologies that are being embraced?
  14. 14. Interviewing Users 14 Click to edit Master title styleThe Research Methodology The methods we’ll use…. The methods we’ll use….
  15. 15. Interviewing Users 15 Click to edit Master title stylePain points: default research/business question?! While we always uncover so-called pain points, the bigger opportunity may come from understanding why – how did we get here?
  16. 16. Interviewing Users 16 Click to edit Master title styleIt may not really be that painful Satisficing (coined by Herbert Simon in 1956) refers to our acceptance of good-enough solutions These can drive engineers and designers crazy…but the real problem isn’t always what it appears to be
  17. 17. Interviewing Users 17 Click to edit Master title styleQuick Exercise While we always uncover so-called pain points, the bigger opportunity may come from understanding why – how did we get here? In groups of 2 or 3… 1.Pick a project you’re working on 2.Write up the business and research questions
  18. 18. Interviewing Users 18 Click to edit Master title style Research Practices
  19. 19. Interviewing Users 19 Click to edit Master title styleFinding the right participants (recruiting) Often an afterthought in project planning • But the right customers are crucial to get the right insights • This takes time to plan and to execute Pointless interviews waste time and challenge the credibility of the work • Person doesn’t really want to talk to you • They don’t have the desired relationship with the product/brand Epic FAILS will happen anyway Identify • What type of people you want to find (criteria, screener) • How you will find those people
  20. 20. Interviewing Users 20 Click to edit Master title styleRecruiting criteria: Relationship to category What is their relationship to the product/service/brand/activity? • Typical user • Non-user • Extreme user • Peripheral user • Expert user • Subject-matter expert • Wannabe user • Should-be user • Future user • Past user • Hater • Loyal to competitor Triangulate through multiple perspectives By creating contrast, you reveal key influencing factors that you wouldn’t otherwise see
  21. 21. Interviewing Users 21 Click to edit Master title styleRecruiting criteria: Type of user There may be more – or different – “users” Think about the whole system: the chooser, the influencer, the user, and anyone who is impacted by those roles Challenge assumptions about who the organization is implicitly/explicitly designing for • Is that everyone? • Do they even exist? Surface a broader sense – even prior to research – about who is affected by the product and who is being designed for Is your “typical customer” real or aspirational?
  22. 22. Interviewing Users 22 Click to edit Master title styleRecruiting criteria: Demographics Gender Age Life stage/lifestyle • Married • Stage of family • Retirement • Not in the middle of a major life-change (unless that’s of interest) Dwelling • Suburban/urban/rural • Apartment/living alone/ roommates/single family home Race • Reflect the population • Reflect the user base Occupation • From outside the industries in question Income • Can afford the product in question Demographic factors are typically secondary when defining the sample
  23. 23. Interviewing Users 23 Click to edit Master title styleThe screener Screeners are very formal, linear documents • Typically used by market research recruiting agencies Screeners have two purposes… • Does the person fits your criteria? • Convince them to participate …and three main sections • Introduction • Checking off criteria • Invitation to participate
  24. 24. Interviewing Users 24 Click to edit Master title styleCreative recruiting Outside of the traditional method of working with a recruiter, there are other approaches • Friends and family/Social networks • Snowball recruiting (participants find more participants) • Craigslist • Intercepts • Etc. Pros and cons • Cheap but time-consuming • Quick but harder to control and manage • Likely to find “pure” participants but they might be too close to you
  25. 25. Interviewing Users 25 Click to edit Master title styleIncentive Enthusiastic thank-you rather than compensation • Recruiter will advise on best amount, depending on what you are asking for • For a fee, they will handle sending a check, but I prefer the immediate gratification of an envelope of cash • Include a thank-you note and even swag In B2B settings, be creative about who and how to incent • You may negotiate this on a per-site basis
  26. 26. Interviewing Users 26 Click to edit Master title styleThe interview guide (or field guide) A detailed plan of what will happen in the interview • Questions, timing, activities, tasks, logistics, etc. Transforms questions-we-want-answers-to into questions-we-will-ask Share with team to align on issues of concern • Especially with multiple teams in the field Helps you previsualize the flow of the session • Include questions as well as other methods that you’ll use Prepping an interview guide means that you may not need to use the interview guide • This is counter-intuitive • It does come in handy during freeze-up moments – scan it over to see what else you want to cover
  27. 27. Interviewing Users 27 Click to edit Master title styleFour sections to the field guide 1. Introduction and Participant Background • Logistics, timing, objectives 2. The Main Body • Subsections for each area you plan to explore (e.g., configuration, learning about new features, etc.) 3. Projection/Dream Questions • Be audacious and ask about predictions for the future or ideal experiences 4. Wrap Up • Logistics, ask about anything they want to tell you that you didn’t ask about
  28. 28. Interviewing Users 28 Click to edit Master title styleDetailed field guide
  29. 29. Interviewing Users 29 Click to edit Master title styleInclude other methods Tasks “Can you draw me a map of your computer network?” Participation “Can you show me how I should make a Whopper?” Demonstration “Show us how you update your playlists.” Ask for a demonstration of playlist updating Role-playing “I’ll be the customer and you be the receptionist, and you show me how they should respond.” Role play the ideal interaction between customer and receptionist Observations Look in server room, access key locker, and other secure locations
  30. 30. Interviewing Users 30 Click to edit Master title styleDocumentation: photos Plan to take lots of photos They will reveal things you don’t remember noticing Essential for storytelling Make sure you have permission before you start snapping
  31. 31. Interviewing Users 31 Click to edit Master title styleDocumentation: audio, video, notes Essential to capture exactly what is said Difficult (impossible) to maintain eye contact, manage interview, and write down everything • Potentially a role for a second interviewer Taking notes – not as the definitive record – can help you process, notice, think about follow-ups, etc. • I strongly recommend privileging being in-the-moment (e.g., eye contact, listening) over trying to capture everything yourself
  32. 32. Interviewing Users 32 Click to edit Master title styleA release is a good idea It clarifies the rights of the interviewee and your organization • Consent – participation is voluntary • Incentive – what the participant gets but they are not an employee • Model release – how images and video will be used • Non-disclosure – in case you disclose anything in-progress These are legal documents • Will your legal department help you prepare it? • Can you influence them to create consumer-friendly, light-weight versions • Give participants their own copy at the outset of the interview
  33. 33. Interviewing Users 33 Click to edit Master title style Contextual Methods
  34. 34. Interviewing Users 34 Click to edit Master title styleAsk people how they would solve a problem Participatory design Doesn’t mean we implement the requested solution literally “I wish it had a handle” Many ways to solve the underlying need (“I need to move it around”) Designers work with this data to generate alternatives Engage people in the non-literal through games and role-playing Uncover underlying principles and explore areas of opportunity that don’t yet exist
  35. 35. Interviewing Users 35 Click to edit Master title styleShow people a solution Consider the difference between testing and exploring Avoid “Do you like this?” Don’t show your best guess at a solution; instead identify provocative examples to surface hidden desires and expectations Make sure you are asking the right questions What does this solution enable? What problems does it solve? Especially for new products, needed before getting into specifics of your implementation Image from Roberto and Worth1000.com
  36. 36. Interviewing Users 36 Click to edit Master title styleUse a range of methods Logging Before the interview, participant takes regular digital photos or fills out a booklet documenting their activities Homework Before the interview, participant saves up all their junk mail for two weeks to prompt our discussion Workbook to capture beliefs, priorities, etc. Stimuli In the interview, review wireframes, prototypes, simulations, storyboards Exercises What’s in your wallet? What’s in your fridge? Sketch your idealized solution Draw a map of where you listen to music; draw a map that associates emotional and subjective factors
  37. 37. Interviewing Users 37 Click to edit Master title styleMapping
  38. 38. Interviewing Users 38 Click to edit Master title styleStoryboards
  39. 39. Interviewing Users 39 Click to edit Master title styleCasual Card Sort
  40. 40. Interviewing Users 40 Click to edit Master title styleObserving Notice what… people, places Notice how… processes, sequences, interactions Suspend your point of view Avoid conclusions Allow confusion Do it “out loud” Steve, practicing his “noticing.” You can tell because he looks like he may be a little confused.
  41. 41. Interviewing Users 41 Click to edit Master title styleCultural context
  42. 42. Interviewing Users 42 Click to edit Master title styleDifferent Methods Work Together Music Application Usage 16% 20% 28% 35% 55% 7% 17% 23% 33% 55% 7% 18% 18% 38% 55% 0% 10% 20% 30% 40% 50% 60% Winamp MusicMatch Jukebox iTunes RealPlayer Windows Media Player <30 (n=297) 30s (n=408) 40+ (n=341)
  43. 43. Interviewing Users 43 Click to edit Master title styleDifferent Methods Work Together Music Application Usage 16% 20% 28% 35% 55% 7% 17% 23% 33% 55% 7% 18% 18% 38% 55% 0% 10% 20% 30% 40% 50% 60% Winamp MusicMatch Jukebox iTunes RealPlayer Windows Media Player <30 (n=297) 30s (n=408) 40+ (n=341)
  44. 44. Interviewing Users 44 Click to edit Master title styleDifferent Methods Work Together
  45. 45. Interviewing Users 45 Click to edit Master title styleDifferent Methods Work Together
  46. 46. Interviewing Users 46 Click to edit Master title styleChristian Rohrer has the definitive model http://www.nngroup.com/articles/which-ux-research-methods/
  47. 47. Interviewing Users 47 Click to edit Master title style Interviewing Best Practices
  48. 48. Interviewing Users 48 Click to edit Master title styleFieldwork principles 1. Check your worldview at the door 2. Embrace how other people see the world 3. Build rapport 4. Listen
  49. 49. Interviewing Users 49 Click to edit Master title styleCheck your worldview at the door Before you start doing interviews, do a team-wide brain dump of all your assumptions and expectations • Get closely-held beliefs out of your heads • You needn’t go back to verify your assumptions; goal is to make assumptions explicit Make the interview about the interview • As a transitional ritual, agree explicitly that you are going to Learn about Paul rather than Identify NextGen Opportunities for Roadmap
  50. 50. Interviewing Users 50 Click to edit Master title styleEmbrace how other people see the world Go to where your users are rather than asking them to come to you Nip distractions in the bud • Eat, and find a bathroom beforehand • Leave plenty of time so you aren’t rushed when you arrive Be ready to ask questions you (think you) know the answers to • Think about: “When are your taxes due?” • What do you know? What are you afraid they’ll say? What might you learn?
  51. 51. Interviewing Users 51 Click to edit Master title styleBuild rapport Be selective about social graces • Just enough small talk • Accept what you’re offered Be selective about talking about yourself • Reveal personal information to give them permission to share • Otherwise, think “OMG! Me too!” without saying it Work towards the tipping point • From question-answer to question-story • You won’t know when it’s coming; be patient
  52. 52. Interviewing Users 52 Click to edit Master title styleListen You can demonstrate that you are listening by asking questions! • Follow-up, follow-up, follow-up • “Earlier, you told us that…” • “I want to go back to something else you said…” Signal your transitions: “Great, now I’d like to move onto a totally different topic” This level of listening is not how we normally talk to each other • Remember that you are interviewing, not having a conversation • This is really hard
  53. 53. Interviewing Users 53 Click to edit Master title styleListening body language Yes! Not so much.
  54. 54. Interviewing Users 54 Click to edit Master title styleSilence defeats awkwardness After you ask your question, be silent • Don’t put the answers in the question After they’ve answered you, be silent
  55. 55. Interviewing Users 55 Click to edit Master title styleUse natural language Talk like your subject talks!
  56. 56. Interviewing Users 56 Click to edit Master title styleIf you want to fix something, wait until the end It’s frustrating to watch users struggle with your product • Remember, you are there to learn from them You will lose the interview if you start taking their questions When it’s time to go, show or tell them only what will help them
  57. 57. Interviewing Users 57 Click to edit Master title styleBreak (15 minutes)
  58. 58. Interviewing Users 58 Click to edit Master title style Problem Framing 1:30 – 1:50 Research Practices 1:50 – 2:20 Contextual Methods 2:20 – 2:40 Interviewing Best Practices 2:40 – 3:00 Break 3:00 – 3:15 Interviewing Best Practices 3:15 – 3:45 Interviewing Activity/Debrief 3:45 – 4:30 Today
  59. 59. Interviewing Users 59 Click to edit Master title styleWhy so many types of questions? Real interviews aren’t as simple as asking a question, getting an answer, and then moving onto the next question in your list. You are unlikely to get to the actual answer without asking a few different questions a few different ways. You need a range of tools and techniques. And you need to feel when you haven’t got to the real answer yet so you can keep going .
  60. 60. Interviewing Users 60 Click to edit Master title stylePrepare for exploding questions Coping techniques • Wait until these issues come up organically, without you having to ask • Make notes on your field guide about what you want to loop back to so you don’t forget • Triage based on what’s most pressing for your topic • Triage based on what makes the best follow-up, to demonstrate listening – e.g., emotional cues
  61. 61. Interviewing Users 61 Click to edit Master title styleGetting better at interviewing Practice with hallway or other serendipitous micro-interviews Write surveys and participant screeners to practice crafting questions out of the moment How do you get to Carnegie Hall? Practice, man, practice!
  62. 62. Interviewing Users 62 Click to edit Master title styleParticipant screeners as asking practice A good way to practice both framing a question and the empathic exercise of thinking through the respondent’s user experience with that question
  63. 63. Interviewing Users 63 Click to edit Master title styleWrite and take surveys Develop your own critical eye (and interviewer’s voice) by looking for bad examples and identifying just what’s wrong with them
  64. 64. Interviewing Users 64 Click to edit Master title styleWe learn from mistakes and mishaps Collect and share war stories with other interviewers www.portigal.com/category/series /warstories/
  65. 65. Interviewing Users 65 Click to edit Master title styleInterviewing Exercise Imagine you are at a startup looking for opportunities in home meal preparation • Quickly put together a question guide (10 minutes) Get in groups of 2 Alternate interviewing each other, 8 minutes each • Remember, let yourself follow-up! • Stay in the exercise! Group debrief
  66. 66. Interviewing Users 66 Click to edit Master title style Portigal Consulting www.portigal.com @steveportigal steve@portigal.com +1-415-894-2001 Thank you!

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