Six Tips for Short User Interviews

August 18, 2016

Short user interviews are unscheduled interviews, done directly in the field. They are very useful to start researching a domain. You can quickly get a good idea of the user experience with a product or a service, and uncover high levels needs and problems.

1. Where to go

To find users, think about where your target users might be, what they’re likely to do. The best place to conduct such interviews is where potential users are in a situation of waiting for something (queuing for lunch or cinema, waiting at the driver license office). They will welcome someone to chat with to pass the time.

2. Start with something they like

Even if you are here mostly to uncover problems (unfulfilled needs, pain points, etc), start with a topic related to your objective that they will enjoy talking about. For example, if you’re working on a tax filing system, don’t start with tax at first, but maybe with money, and then shift the focus on tax.

3. Listen well and pick up on cues

Listening is a very active posture. Not only you might be taking notes, but you have to stay vigilant. Small cues, such as hesitations, silence, or just an allusion, can be the clue you need to unveil interesting insights. You need to build on such a hint, ask for precisions, more details, etc.

4. You’re not there to fix their problem!

When someone is sharing a problem they have, don’t rush into providing a possible solution.

First, it’s likely that you don’t know all the circumstances. Second, saying “you could do this” or “I would have done that”, will in a way put the responsibility on them. They might feel as if they should have done better, or fear to appear like a dumb person not to have thought of that. Third, you will lose the opportunity to uncover useful insights.

Rather, show empathy and understanding, and ask them about the circumstances and how they managed to deal with the problem, or what they think they would do if it happened again.

5. Reciprocity is key

Interviewees are likely to ask you some questions, about you, about the research you’re doing (of course, you have already briefly introduced yourself and the study at the beginnning). You must be prepared to answer these questions. They have answered yours, or are ready to answer them. You need to be as open as they are.

You have to be careful though of not showing that you have a stake in whatever product or service you’re investigating. Ideally, you shouldn’t be deeply involved anyway. Otherwise, they might not feel comfortable making critics.

6. Keep it short

Don’t extend the duration past the time you promised at first (3 to 5 minutes). If the person agreed, but appear to be somehow reluctant, then make it shorter. Even if the person is happy to chat longer and seems to have tons of interesting things to say, keep it within the stated duration, and if they agree to a longer interview, ask for their contact details or schedule one on the spot if possible.

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