January 29, 2018
Sitting down one-on-one with your users is one of the most impactful research methods. These meetings establish a cadence and trusting relationship. The user interview will help you gain insight into any user’s mental model. By understanding their needs, goals, and roadblocks you are better able to define root problems and formulate the next steps towards a solution.
In general, structuring your interviews into distinct buckets of questions as per your research plan agenda. The interview should not take more than 45–minutes to 1-hour. If you are doing a marathon series of interviews, please ensure to have breaks built into the schedule. Take a few minutes to decompress and have small-talk or industry-specific topics to chat about. Have coffee or water available. However, don’t bring food in, as it can be a distraction.
Start off each session with a quick round-table of names and introductions. Limit the number of your team members to two or three. Set the tone of the meeting by being friendly and providing a quick overview of what you two will be discussing.
If your participants already use your product, ensure that you can include 10–15 minutes at the beginning of your session for them to provide feedback, make suggestions, and vent. Rather than waiting until the end or ignoring it completely, this ensures participants feel heard up front.
- Introductions and overview of the session — 5 minutes
- Open Feedback Period — 15 minutes
- Topic 1 (Mary) — 10 minutes
- Topic 2 (Quintin) — 15 minutes
- Topic 3 (Mary) — 15 minutes
- Conclusion — 5 minutes
In my experience working on enterprise or niche software tools, plan to take participants out to dinner or drinks (especially if you’re on site with a client or partner) after your research sessions have wrapped for the day. This bonding time builds immense trust and will pay back in huge dividends of patience and honesty going forward.
Things to Remember:
Record sessions using the voice memos feature on your smartphone. Take minimal notes, and spend more time listening and watching. Put away excess electronics, from computers to iPads. If you are taking notes, dedicate one person in your group to act as secretary.
Take Photos & Selfies:
Take photos of a user’s environment, the software they use every day (not all of it will be Google-able), and of any overhead monitors/whiteboards.
Take selfie’s with your users, especially if you’re on site. Be sure to stand to the side of the group. This is not only a fun icebreaker, but it provides you with photos of users you can use in internal artifacts. Putting a name or persona to a face will help bridge the empathy gap for engineers and other stakeholders who aren’t present.
Follow Your Agenda:
If you’ve written a research plan with an agenda chock full of sanitized, non-leading, open-ended questions use it!
Try to make sure you are adding 15-25 minutes of extra time to each hour of research. This lets you dive deeper if the participant has time. Plus it lets you feel less stressed and lets you take tangential conversations during the session.
- Pro Tip: Fall in love with awkward silences. Sit quietly and leave long pauses after they answer questions
Be aware of external factors:
Get as many 1:1s or groups of frontline employees away from management. Ensure you aren’t taking too much time from users who are stressed. Often bosses and employees will have very different ideas and feedback. If you can’t separate the meeting, walk around with an employee who might open up about additional situations / offer clarifications to statements with a more practical outlook.
If your users are on-site at your office, budget in time to walk around the floor. Introduce them to various teams they may interact with (in one way or another) like sales, support, and engineers.
If you are on location, ensure you are in a quiet environment — ideally their working area — with limited outside distraction. Avoid additional people, even from your team. More than 2-3 team members will add unnecessary distractions.
Wear clothing that matches that of your participant. If they dress up to be at work, do the same. If they dress down, don’t come in wearing jackets, ties, and high heels. In a similar vein, never wear branded swag from your company. It works against you, further distinguishing how you are an outsider and different from your participant. Limit the technology equipment in sight. Don’t stroll in with brand-new MacBook Pros, iPads, and tons of other gadgets. A simple notebook and smartphone will usually suffice. Only allow one laptop out at a time.