How to be a UX Researcher: User Interviews

1024 538 Rosalyn halford

In this first exciting new series from Ros, our UX Researcher & Designer, we give you the inside track on what it takes to be a world-class UX researcher. We break down the day-to-day tasks and process of collecting and analysing user data.

Welcome to the first part of what we hope will be a very handy dandy series on being a UX Researcher. Today’s lesson will focus on my personal favourite stage, talking to people. Throughout my time working on various projects and alongside other researchers, I’ve gathered a few tips and tricks to get the most out of interviews. So grab a cuppa and settle – here are my top four tips for talking to users. 

1. Take them on a Journey 

When speaking to users, often we’re looking to identify pain points and issues with the software, processes and, in general, day to day life. However, I can guarantee you that when you ask someone ‘What would you want to improve when using X’, the response almost always is ‘Nothing, it’s absolutely fine – 5 stars!’.  

People don’t want you to think they’re doing something wrong or that they make mistakes, even if the software/process is the culprit. Instead of jumping straight into the pain points, get them to talk through what they do – step by step. 

By doing this, you can then delve into each stage of their journey more profoundly and dig up lots of juicy details that might otherwise slip someone’s mind. This process almost always guarantees that you’ll get more than just a top-line view, and it’s always a joy to see a user discover things along with you.  

2. Ask Stupid Questions 

There is no question too small, too weird, or too stupid to ask. One phrase I often use in my work is ‘Explain this to me like I’m five.’ You need all the details, inside and out. People will often skip over little things – to them, it’s every day, unimportant. But that ‘unimportant’ thing could be the nugget of truth, the golden egg of pain points that could blow this whole thing wide open- so you’ve got to ask about it.  

Even if an answer is obvious, it’s good to clarify. Don’t assume. Go in with assumptions, sure. But it’s much better to ask them rather than risk being unsure of your understanding.  

3. Be Empathetic 

I cannot stress this point enough: Empathy is such a massive part of the job. When you’re talking to users, you must remember, first and foremost, they are people – people with problems and lives and hobbies and things going on. Be patient and really put yourself in their shoes.  

There have been times I’ve spoken to burnt-out teachers who needed to vent, to families with people they love in care homes who they worry about, to children who couldn’t care less about this interview because there’s a really cool bug outside and they have to go look at it.  

But that’s the thing. They will always be these people, even when interacting with a service or a product. No journey exists in a vacuum. There will always be context behind it all – the more you can understand that, the more you can understand people, and the more you can truly understand your users.   

4. Get your hands dirty 

One story I love to tell about my time as a researcher is when I was shadowing a charity organisation. They would go into people’s homes and help them save money on energy – LED light bulbs, better insulation around radiators, switching their supplier- it was really good stuff.  

I was there to see how we could improve a form system they used on their iPad – ask questions about the form, see how it works in action, jot down some notes, etc. Simple enough, right? Of course not! Have you not been paying attention? 

As I said previously, context is everything. It wasn’t just the charity workers and their iPads. There were also people who they were visiting, often those who were vulnerable or disadvantaged. Want to know how these charity workers get it done? You’ve got to do it too – lift things from the van, speak to the people they were there to visit, etc.  

I take my job with pride, so when we arrived at an old lady’s house who asked if we could hoover the stairs for her, guess what I did? I hoovered her stairs, landing, hallways. It was very rewarding; she gave both the charity worker and me a chocolate bar for our efforts. 

Bringing it all together

In summary of today’s lesson: 

  • Don’t jump right into the problems. Get the users to take you on a journey. 
  • Ask loads of questions, ask all the questions. 
  • Be empathetic (remember users are people too). 
  • Get involved and stuck in there. You’ll be surprised how much more you learn when you really go all in. 

So, there you have it, at least from my perspective. Tune in next time for Stage Two – Analysing Your Data.