DU018 – How to interview users and stakeholders

No we aren’t talking about job interviews this time, we are talking about how to extract juicy insights out of your users and stakeholders.

We have tips for interviewing when using different research methodologies, how to deal with different personalities in your research sessions and find out why Carla looks like a bear.

Season 0 - Getting Untangled
Season 0 - Getting Untangled
DU018 - How to interview users and stakeholders

No we aren’t talking about job interviews this time, we are talking about how to extract juicy insights out of your users and stakeholders.

We have tips for interviewing when using different research methodologies, how to deal with different personalities in your research sessions and finding out why Carla looks like a bear.


Episode – DU018 – How to Interview Users and Stakeholders Hosts: Chris Mears and Carla Lindarte

00:16 Chris: Hello and welcome to Design Untangled with me, Chris Mears and over there is Carla Lindarte. How are you doing?

00:23 Carla: I am good. How are you Chris?

00:26 Chris: I am all right. I have got very bad hay fever at the minute.

00:29 Carla: Oh, me too. I have had like hay fever all day. I have realized that there is no point of wearing any makeup during spring because every time I wear makeup I start itching my eyes and then I look like a bear, like a panda bear. Yeah. The other day I was doing a presentation in front of a lot of people and my manager stopped me. I was like, what? What’s going on? And she’s like, oh, your makeup is all over your face. I was like, Oh God.

00:58 Chris: Yeah. I try to cut down on the makeup as well.

01:02 Carla: Yeah, you should.

01:02 Chris: I am naturally beautiful, so I do not need it.

01:07 Carla: Oh, you are so lucky. I mean after your turn, I would say 28, I cannot go out of the house without makeup. I be scaring a lot people, I guess.

01:19 Chris: All right. Let’s talk about some UX things rather than our weird personal lives. So today we’re talking about interviews and that is not job interviews. This time around. We’re going to dig in a bit more to research interviews and the various types, various techniques and tips that you can employ along the way. Probably few anecdotes I’d imagine, as well, from both of us.

01:46 Carla: Yeah, I mean, interviewing is very important. I mean as UX designers and also as a kind of design professionals as a whole, like is really important to be a good interview to be a person who can listen, especially listen to the people they are talking to. Being able to observe as well as being able to ask the right questions. So it is really, really important for our profession to have very good interviewing skills.

02:16 Chris: Yup. Right. And there is various different types of skills and techniques you will use depending on what the type of the interview is. So if it is an interview in the lab, you need a certain frame of mind. You need certain techniques. If you are doing contextual research and your sort of interviewing people a bit more ad hoc, potentially whilst they are doing their jobs, the kind of lab based approach is not necessarily going to work. And equally if you are out on the streets doing guerrilla testing, that’s going to involve a very different style as well.

02:49 Carla: Yeah, exactly. I mean it also, when you are interviewing people remotely, when do you use it in Skype or something like that to interview people or phone interviews as well. They all require a different techniques and tips they you should follow. But at the end of the day, I mean, a good interview has certain characteristics. To me, a good interview has to be a good listener. It also should have no judgment. And what I mean by that is that you should really have an opinion or trying to push one direction rather than, the other. So do not try to avoid having biases on, whatever you interviewing the person about. They also should be able to ask open ended questions. And what I mean by that is questions that are not certainly an answer is a yes or no.

03:45 Carla: So things like, do you remember the last time you did this? Can you describe that moment for me? Or try to ask questions in an open way so people can talk about what’s going on rather than yes or no. Also allow yourself enough time to think and process the information that you are listening to during the interview. So I know that we always have these awkward silent moments, but sometimes it is actually important to have those silent moments during the interview as well. So you are processing, you are listening to what the person is saying and you be able to ask the following questions. So do not worry about that.

04:31 Chris: Yeah, I’d say as well as being thinking time, those silent points are a technique in themselves. So often if you just sit there without saying anything, it is a prompt for the other person to kind of expand their thinking a little bit more. I know it is a technique that sales use, like throw their figure out there, and then they just do not speak until the client either says yes or no or whatever. It is a pretty classic sales technique. But as well in the interview session you can use that as a way of just making people expand on their thoughts. If you do not think you have really kind of got the full picture from their first answer.

05:13 Carla: Yeah, exactly. I mean that is exactly right. And also do not be afraid of asking for clarification or examples. So sometimes you feel oh, I didn’t really understand what this person said, but I am just going to keep going. So they do not know what they are talking about. It is actually a good thing if you say, can you clarify that for me please? Or can you just say that again or can you give me examples of what you mean, it is okay to do that because you have to have a clear picture of what that person is trying to tell you. And if you have any thoughts just do not be afraid of asking and going deeper.

05:52 Chris: Yeah, that bias one is interesting as well, because that’s probably the biggest of got you, if you are in the position where you are a UX designer, testing your own stuff. So the temptation is always to explain to someone how something’s meant to work, if they are not getting it. So no, actually if you just do this, this happens and then they’ll be like, oh that’s cool. And you are like, yeah, my design is awesome. So that’s definitely something to watch out for. And I think if you are in that situation, which isn’t ideal, just definitely take on the advice of listening rather than speaking. Just observe what people do. If they do not get something, just note it down, do not comment on it, move on to the next tasks. It is so easy to give them sick knows even if you are not aware that you are doing so you know, little points on a screen or UI or whatever, that can be enough to throw off the whole usability test.

06:53 Carla: That happens really, really often when you have a prototype that potentially is not fully functional. So people might try to do certain tasks on your prototype, and that button hasn’t been activated or it doesn’t have any animation in it. So I have seen that happening a lot of times in, in user testing sessions that you have a prototype that is not fully functional, but I mean you can allow the user to try and complete the task without you probing too much and just helping them to do that. However, if then they are getting stuck because the prototype is not fully functional, then you can jump in and help them a little bit. But the idea of it is just that you make sure, you are observing their behavior while they are tapping on or clicking on if it is a website, but yeah, just that happens a lot when the prototype doesn’t work.

07:50 Chris:: You should be using the think alouds technique where possible. So if people are going through a set of screens, you want them to be kind of speaking free, what they are seeing on that screen, what they think of the contents, where they are looking. Even just their first impressions when they first got seen that page. Do they have a sense of what’s going on, where do they think they can go next, where do they think they’ve come from? All these sort of things. And it all depends on the artists and how good they are at that. Some it just comes quite naturally and you do not really have to do much, but others will just sit there in silence, clicking away or tapping away and they will need a bit of prompting every now and then.

08:32 Carla: Exactly. I mean there is still different personalities. I do not know about you Chris, but sometimes you interview people who, especially if you recruit them men in a lab environment. They are just there for the money. So those ones are like trying to get to throw the test as quickly as possible. Trying to just tell you what they think you want to hear and just get out of the place, with the minimum effort and getting the money. There is also people who I have seen, as very obvious at being on several user testing sessions in the past. So they start using words like carousel or, I like that drop down, like that very kind of really into it. Which also you need to be careful with the kind of feedback you get from these people and try to, focus on the task that you are asking them to do rather than, listen in too much about all these opinions they have about the designer you are putting together.

09:39 Chris: Yeah, we definitely had some serial research participants when we’re in government. Because you know it is 50 or more quid for an hours work. It is a viable sort of income stream almost. And when you do recognize those people coming to several sessions, sometimes we did just end the session and turn them away because it is not going to give you valid results. Rarely they are just, saying what you want to hear.

10:09 Carla: Exactly. I mean it is also like a good tee for that is if you have a recruitment agency during the recruitment for you, talk to them and obviously give feedback specific about that participant that you didn’t think it was either good enough or he was just there for the money. And also try to recruit, I would always try to recruit a couple of people more per day. So you would be trying to interview about six people a day. I tried to do this, eight or something. So obviously you count for no shows which always happen. And also if you have a very, very bad participant, then you can have an extra one just to kind of balance it out. And yeah, so just tried to always aim for recruiting more participants that you need.

10:57 Chris: Maybe always got to have a couple of floaters in the back, because [inaudible 00:11:00] unfortunately named. But sometimes if you get bad weather or whatever, you can get a lot higher no-shows and you would be used to. So if you have got a few floaters who are basically paid to hang around in case you need them, it means that you will get your sessions for the day, which is very useful. Another thing that you should be aware of that we’ve experienced recently on some of our projects, is if you are doing the research in the kind of companies HQ and they are customers of your company, you either get one of two scenarios we discovered. So they will either suck up to you and say, your company is great and this product is great. Depending how they view or the session will just turn into a big pitching session. So there is really only two ways you can deal with that. So the first is to present yourself as an external consultant, reiterate that. They are not your designs. And if you are lucky enough to be a contractor, you can legitimately say, I do not work for them. And then the other one would be to look into maybe doing it in a space outside of the HQ, because it can taint some of the feedback you have been given, I find.

12:23 Carla: That is true that is actually very, very true. I mean also, you need to bear in mind that just talking about, you know, jargon and words and the type of questions that you use. Because we are in design and you are the one doing the research and perhaps your team are the same people doing the design, doing their research. Sometimes you get too attached to the designs that you are putting together. Like put it in front of users that then you start using the jargon either you know, related to the company itself. You know, like acronyms. So things like that. Or you saying like technical work. So I remember once, I was like [inaudible 00:13:07] this research for a retail client and one of the UX designers of my team. And she was like interviewing this lady like 45 year old lady. And is she put in front of her that prototype and saying to her like, oh look, so you are looking at a responsive site and the lady is like looking at her like, what are you actually telling me? She didn’t understand, what do you mean we’re responsive? And I said, well, this is a responsive site. And I am like, well what, what does that actually mean? And then, they kind of wasted 10 minutes or 15 minutes for thisgirl trying to explain to the lady what a responsive site was. So yeah, was just completely waste of time. So just be careful with those terminology because the terminology you use, because people get confused and then you just waste time doing an interview.

13:57 Chris: So let’s talk quickly about the different, I suppose styles of conversation you would have, depending on what type of research is. So I think we’ve mostly been talking about lab based stuff at the moment, in terms of silence and things like that. But if you are on the street trying to get some guerrilla feedback, if you go up to someone and then just do not talk for five minutes, it is going to get awkward very quickly. So we spoke about it before. No. Did we do a guerrilla testing upsight we did, didn’t we?

14:31 Carla: I think we did. Yeah. And then I did this Webinar as well.

14:34 Chris: We’ve wrapped up so many, I can’t even remember what we’ve done now. And, but anyway, in that scenario, you are really looking to identify what your primary research questions are and focusing on them in the lab. You have got a bit more time to expand, explore the wider problem space. But guerrilla testing, your time is likely to be short. So you need to be very focused, use the same techniques as we spoke about to keep people on track if they, well actually we haven’t actually spoke about any of those techniques, mate. Let’s rewind and say, let’s say you have got a participant who’s waffling away, not sticking to the point, sort of like me at the minute. How can you get them to talk about the thing you actually want them to talk about instead of just what their daughter did that day? That’s a question for you.

15:26 Carla: I tend to try and if that is happening, I try to, without interrupting too much, I try to bring them back into the question that I asked or the task that I have asked them to do. Just kind of reiterate the question. So it is obvious that they haven’t answered it yet. Or say oh, that’s really interesting, but let’s just focus on this for now. Try to refocus the interview to the point where you left, your discussion guide. So that’s why it is really important to have a discussion guide because it gives you a structure of the key things that you need to get out of that interview. Obviously, you always need to allow time for people to talk about all the things, random things. But the more you can without being rude, obviously, stop them and say and try to refocus that back into the last question that, you thought they answered. I think that’s one of the things I would do if that is happening.

16:32 Chris: I think that’s very interesting. And then sometimes literally say, let’s move on now just so they know. Kind of you are done listening to that particular bit of Shapiro and it is time to get refocused because remember, you are paying them some decent money to be there and you need to get that value out of them. So it is not unreasonable to keep them focused on the task at hand.

16:57 Carla: That might be different when you are doing guerrilla, because you kind of asking people for a favor for a small incentive to help you out. So in that case, but again, doing things like, okay, oh, that’s very interesting, but can you please tell me about this? Just going back into your discussion guide or the key questions that you are trying to ask. And just listen. Yes, but also make sure you get what you need from the interview.

17:27 Chris: A thing is a point that keeps coming on this podcast. We’ve had a lot of questions in the Slack recently. Plug, plug, plug, UXMentor.Me. I am asking about, should I use this research technique for this or should I use it for that? You really have to go back to what your research goals are and then identify the best type of research to help you achieve that and so do not, it is kind of the same as the tools discussion, right? Should I use a jor? Should I use whatever? It is going back to what tool in this case research technique is going to help you answer the research questions you have most effectively. And you will need to bear in mind all these different kinds of interviews and conversations you have in each of those different techniques and then choose the one that’s most, that’s going to give you most value basically.

18:24 Carla: Exactly. I mean in depth interviews, or contextual interviews, or graphic interviews, which basically means interviewing people without, within the context or contextual inquiries they call as well. They normally relate to the kind of a generative phase of the research life cycle. So it means you go in deeper into people’s needs and their environments and where they are and how they behave and what their needs are to be able to generate ideas of potential solutions. The other types of interviews like lab-base interviews when you are testing something but also wants to want to get some quantitative insight into, what people think about solutions you are prototyping, they are more like evaluative, you go more in the evaluative phase that every research life cycle, so you are evaluating whether or not that the ideas that you put together are good enough.

19:19 Carla: So the interviews, that’s why I think important is in very important that a UX designer or researcher, or both, are very good at interviewing people because they would know exactly why they are using the interview technique for whatever they want to research and find out. I know, so what’s the best way of approaching the interview? And also what is the best, material that they need to use for the interview as well, where their location is going to be, et cetera. So you all schools back at the, as you said to the final goal off the research that you are trying to do

19:57 Chris:: Now, what are your thoughts on taking notes during an interview? Personally, when I do particularly lab based stuff, I do not like to be sat there writing notes while I am talking to people. I know other people have different preferences, but I find it puts up a little bit of a barrier to the conversation and I have noticed them basically watching me write the notes when I have done it and so you can see their mind ticking over. Why is he writing that down? And it kind of phrase the whole thing off track. So do you ever, do you ever take notes yourself?

20:32 Carla: No, not really. I mean, ideally when do you do any interviews? Whatever context, you should have an interviewer and she should have note taker. And the reason for that is that as an you need to concentrate on listening to what the person you interview is saying to you and you need to make sure that you are capturing the right insights with the questions that you are asking. And also making sure that you keep the interview on track to what you are trying to achieve. The note taker is not just a note taker is not just a whatever person who’s available to come with me and take notes. And actually sometimes you should like swap roles as well, is someone who can listen as well, but also observe people’s reactions and making sure that they annotate, when they find a very nice quote or something that’s going to add value into their research. Actually, highlighted into the notes, make sure they follow the structure, that you fot together for your notes, as well. So I think you always have to have two as a minimum. Sometimes people have three people because then if you have a camera on your recording and things like that, then you need an extra person to help out. But two people as a minimum and then sometimes you swap your roles so you get a more balanced view of what the research is happening.

22:06 Chris: Just in terms of spotting interesting quotes and stuff, having that note-taker, as little a tip, I guess is they can write down the actual time that those quotes happen. So when you are looking to playback stuff to stakeholders afterwards, you do not have to scour through hours of videos going, oh, when did that person say that thing? That was interesting. You have got it right there. You can jump there. And it saves so much time.

22:33 Carla: Yeah, exactly. That’s just so useful, especially if you are having a particular frame that you put together before to start the interview. So have you, let’s say I want to focus on pain points about the checkup process and you find something really good that you know people are talking about for example. So and then you having that quote in your notes, is really valuable and it is going to save you a lot of time.

23:01 Chris: Yup. What else did we want to cover? Is that it?

23:06 Carla: Yeah, I guess so. I think as I said before, I think interviewing, the more you interview, the better you get at that. It is something that you have to get out there and do and learn from it and, make mistakes and get better every time. It is also something that we did not mention, is like stakeholder interviews, which are different to customers or user interviews. They are very, very, very important. Sometimes we kind of, you know, do not pay much attention to that, but it is actually very important to, have a list of stakeholders map, just make sure who are your key stakeholders and not necessarily your clients directly. If you are working in an agency or a consultant environment, but also like who else is involved in that particular process. Serve is a product that you are looking at and make sure you go and talk to these people, listen to them and apply similar techniques that we just talked about and also gathered that insight as a separate type of insight. So then when you present them back your findings of the research you have the stakeholder view, the company organizational view as well as the customer view, which are both equally important.

24:27 Chris: Yeah. And I think the other thing to say around that is it is a way of keeping your stakeholders engaged in the design process as well. So you are understanding their needs from the business point of view. Likely they are people who have kind of sponsored the actual project itself. You want to keep them, I guess helping them understand how you are tackling the problem by using almost the same techniques on them and leave them coming away feeling like he really understood what they were about and what they were trying to achieve. That helps build confidence in the overall design process.

25:05 Carla: Definitely. That is really, really important. Another thing that I, we forgot to mention, well I forgot to mention about interviewing as a whole is the importance of day briefing. And so once you do an interview, ideally you are a couple like two people doing the interview. And sometimes you have multiple people doing interviews at the same time. You know, the project that you are doing is quite big. So the research team or people doing the interviewing, it is really important they have some time to debrief, especially after each interview. And that’s why, when do you schedule your interview day? For example, when in one day you want to cover like four, six people, whatever. You need to have some like time in between interviews because it helps you debrief as a team. So get together and agree whether or not where are the more interesting insights that you, you kind of heard or observations that you made. And then it helps you start framing your insights into some kind of framework. So that is really, really important. Deep briefing and just having a framer or a structure for that debrief is also really important.

Chris: All right. I think that’s probably it for interviews. If you are on that plane, welcome back home. And I have got more good news, I do not have to bother doing the plugs anymore because I paid someone to do it for me. All right. So we will see you in a couple of weeks. See you later.

26:52 Search and subscribe to Designuntangled using your favourite podcast app and leave us a review. Follow us on the web at www.designuntangled.co.uk or on Twitter @designuntangled. Become a better designer with online mentoring at UXMentor.Me.