I was recently asked if I had any tips for someone who is just getting into UX research. As I started talking, I realised I had like a thousand. So I thought: why not save you 993 and write up the seven most important things I’ve learned doing user interviews over the past ten years? Buckle up and, as always, head over to LinkedIn if you’d like to share some of your UX testing wisdom with us.
1. Interviews are (almost) always a good idea
There are dozens of UX research methods to choose from for any research problem. Here are 20 of them, explained and mapped across three dimensions, courtesy of the Nielsen Norman Group, for your research method researching pleasure (I promise, that's as meta as it gets). As a rule of thumb though, the further you are in the product development process, the more likely you are to benefit from user interviews and other qualitative research methods rather than quantitative ones.
Surveys are a great way to gather information in the preliminary phase. They help researchers spot trends in user preferences and see if a new product will be a hit or miss by providing numerical data on how many people do this vs that. Through user interviews, however, you can also understand the whys behind the whats and fine-tune your product development, sales and marketing strategies accordingly.
That said, my advice is not to skip interviews altogether, no matter which scenario you’re in. An in-depth user interview might not only uncover perspectives you haven’t considered before, but even give you ideas on which topics to cover in your survey and in what order.
2. Treat your questions as prompts, not a script
The first step of conducting successful user interviews is to narrow your research objectives down to specific questions you want to get answers to. The second is to not pose those particular questions, or at least not the way you would in a survey. A user interview is, or should be, a natural conversation between you and the participant that leaves you with a deeper understanding of their behaviours, needs and challenges. Let it evolve organically: go off-script, if you have to, and try to ask questions only when you get stuck.
3. Look for stories, not answers
Continuing from my previous point: make sure you get the user to share stories instead of simply listing facts. Open-ended questions that start with question words, such as what, when, where, who, why and how, are crucial to getting and keeping the conversation flowing and helping the user open up about their lives and habits.
Avoid questions that can be answered in one word, especially “yes or “no”, along with questions like “Did you…”, “Have you...” or “Would you...”. When in doubt, go with “Tell me about…”. Long story short: act more like a journalist, than a cop. A cop is out to discover the facts of the case. A journalist is looking to find the story behind the facts.
4. Check your agenda at the door
As humans, we’re naturally wired to crave validation from others. I mean, people spend on average 2.5 hours on social media every day for a reason. Proving a hypothesis, however, should never be the desired result of a UX research project. It goes against everything usability testing stands for, which is uncovering things you don’t know about your users or product. Be mindful of your preconceptions, so they don’t bleed into your research. Confirmation bias, driven by our innate need to be correct and all-knowing, often lead to suggestive questions and, ultimately, skewed results, faulty conclusions and wasted resources.
5. Mind your target audience and make it worth their while
High-quality participants are key to your research so they should be treated as such.
For starters, make it easier for users to participate by giving them multiple time and date options within a reasonable time frame, especially if you’re dealing with a notoriously hard-to-reach or high-profile user base. This means not scheduling morning interviews when people are most likely to be in a rush or slots during peak business hours when they’re caught up in work. Plus, remember to check and plan for time zone differences.
Then there’s the issue of incentives. Research participants should receive fair compensation for their time and effort, not only because that’s the ethical thing to do, but also because it can significantly improve turn-up rates. Defining what’s fair depends on several factors, such as the area of research and the type and level of skills users have. In the B2B space, you should budget a minimum of €50 per session. With a niche demographic, you can easily be looking at a three-figure price tag.
6. UX research takes a village
User experience design is not a solo affair, so user experience research shouldn’t be either. This is why PingPong allows interviewers to invite team members to follow sessions in real time, access or share recordings with ease through a URL and create short clips to highlight key insights. Others joining your user interviews as note-takers or observers can contribute to the success of your research in more ways than one. Firstly, hearing user feedback and ideas first-hand can help non-customer-facing team members make products more intuitive and customer-centric. Secondly, the more people participating in the interview, the more perspectives you’ll end up with when discussing research findings and translating them into action. This brings me to my next point.
7. Don’t research for the sake of research
If your research has no impact on your product, team, organisation or thinking, why do it at all? Whatever your ambitions, your research statement and goals should be clearly defined, collectively agreed upon and well documented. Once you’ve synthesised your research data and insights, share your findings with all stakeholders in a way that makes them easy to access, understand and benefit from. And most importantly, always make sure that the lessons learned are fed back into the product development cycle.