When it comes to UX interviews, general principles are the tip of the iceberg when it comes to gathering essential data for a successful UX research project. In the last couple years I’ve identified three major areas that are easy to gloss over when building the project strategy and executing on the research plan. If overlooked, they have the potential to reduce the effectiveness of the UX interview project execution, so researchers need to get them right every time.
1. Recruitment doesn’t end with an email
Participant recruitment is difficult for any study scientific or otherwise, and UX research is no exception. It’s easy to feel a sense of accomplishment from getting the necessary number of participants scheduled at each location, so much so that there’s a natural tendency to be entirely focused on interview day at that point – making sure the necessary logistics are in place, equipment prepared, and interview script ready to go.
But wait! Recruitment has only just begun. It’s important to keep the following tips in mind as you continue to interact with each participant:
- If the researcher is a third-party contractor, the client should send out an ice-breaker email to each participant. This will allow the researcher to reply to the email thread with a scheduling request that is less likely to be ignored as spam. If the sessions are remote, that scheduling email should include a request for the best phone number to reach the participant. If the sessions are in person, this is an opportunity to provide details for the location of the interviews.
- Send a session calendar invite. When they accept an event on their weekly calendar, participants are agreeing to a commitment to be ready to go on a particular data and time.
- Send a reminder email. Participants lives are busy too, so don’t assume they’ll remember about the session. The likelihood of no-shows decreases dramatically with a friendly reminder email the day before the session.
2. Persistently dig for data
Just as a treasure hunter wouldn’t arrive at the “X” and expect to immediately locate the treasure, conducting an interview should be a passionate effort for the determined researcher. Asking the question on a script is like sticking a shovel in the top soil. Only through persistent digging will the complexities below the surface be reached to expose the treasure. The following are two primary “methods of persistence” that every researcher should utilize:
- Encourage the participant to think out loud. During exploratory sessions involving a software interface or a website, the “think out loud” method allows the researcher to get pulled directly into the mind of the participant. This is easier said than done, and I always cross my fingers that my interviewees are known by friends and family to “talk to themselves”, since these are the participants that have developed the art of thinking out loud. For participants who struggle with this initially, slowing down and giving them a friendly reminder (and even an example if necessary) can help them get over the sometimes awkward feeling of expressing their thoughts verbally.
- Employ awkward pausing. Even when the interview questions have been written with painstaking non-direction, it’s all too common that the responses are high level and even ambiguous at their worst. I’ve tried out plenty of methods to encourage participants to extrapolate on their feedback during interviews, and I’ve found the simple technique of awkward pausing works most effectively across all personality types. Keep in mind that the pause length should qualify as awkward. The moment the researcher feels uncomfortable with the silence is usually the moment the participant is about to go into more detail or provide a further thought that could make all the difference.
3. Script writing doesn’t end with the customer research plan
Consider the interview script an ever-evolving framework:
- Evolution refers to a process of specialization, and in this sense the script should be edited as discoveries unfold during the interview process. Questions should be restructured as more effective phrasing reveals itself, and new questions should be added as valuable discoveries are uncovered.
- Create an aura of genuine curiosity. Commonly, participants can be feeling fatigued during the first and final interviews of the day, as well as interviews scheduled right after lunch. In these instances, it’s up to the researcher to keep the energy level high and tactfully spur the participant on. Sensing that the researcher is genuinely curious and interested will breathe energy into the participant’s responses.
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