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5 steps to prepare for your next User Interview

Aug 04, 2021 5 minute read Fabio Hutagalung

You’ve got your brief and you’ve decided you’re going to do a user interview (or In-Depth Interview as some may call it). Now what? For seasoned UX researchers the next steps might seem clerical, but it’s not without its own strategies to make sure you’ll end up with rich findings. Here are some things that we need to prepare before a user interview.

5 steps to prepare for your next User Interview

5 steps to prepare for your next User Interview

  1. Define and recruit the participants
  2. Create a discussion guide
  3. Set up discussion stimuli
  4. Set up the right tools
  5. Invite your stakeholders

1. Define and Recruit Participants

At a glance some might feel like this is obvious. Besides, we already knew the problem and who is having that problem. However, knowing who to interview is a bit trickier and I’ll give you an example. Say, we’ve found out that users are dropping off at the checkout page of our e-commerce site. Instead of interviewing every user in your database, I’d recommend asking these questions first:

  • What’s the demographic of these users who drop off?
  • How did they arrive at your site? (eg. organic search, referral links)
  • What were their previous activities before eventually dropping? (eg. which pages did they browse, what products were in their basket)

With these things in mind, we have a better context of the situation. We can use the answers to the questions above as part of our recruitment criteria, which we can add with:

  • What activities do they do, such as job or hobby
  • Products they purchased
  • Spending habit
  • Or any other element of a user persona that you might have…

Speaking of persona, if you already have a rich definition of your user personas then you can simply use it as your recruitment criteria.

Next, we recruit. Why recruiting now? Because recruiting takes a while and we can work the rest of this list while the recruitment happens.

2. Create a Discussion Guide

Discussion guide, or DG, is a fancy way of saying “list of questions to ask”. However, there must be a strategy in your DG. First, return to the brief and let’s focus ourselves on what is the main question that need answering. Then take a step back and plan how you want this question to be answered, starting from basic questions leading up to more specific ones, and ending up with evaluative questions. I’ll give you an example. Say that the main question is “Why are users dropping off at the checkout page?”, then we can break it up into these questions:

  • What are they using our site for? Why? (This is also known as “usecase”)
  • How is their experience (good and bad) so far? Why? (This contains the main question)
  • How is their experience with other similar platforms? Why? (This is evaluative)

You can always expand on this further in order to get a more thorough answer, but remember to always tie it back to the main question. Also, notice there’s always a “why” at the end. This is because UX Researchers always try to discover motivations and patterns rather than just what.

After defining these questions, then we can divide up the Discussion Guide into several sections based on topics. Following the questions above, our topics will then be:

  • Use case
  • Experience with us
  • Other experiences

Within these topics then we can add any question that we think can help us answer the questions above. Besides the questions, something that might also help enrich the discussion is what’s called as a discussion stimuli.

3. Choose a Discussion Stimuli

A stimuli is any tool that can help the discussion to run smoothly or help the participant to answer our questions “better”. Here’s an example of a stimuli:

  • Prototype
  • Card sorting
  • Story board
  • Pics or videos

For example with card sorting, instead of asking the user to tell us what things make them trust an e-commerce site, we can present them with 5-10 cards with answer options that they can then sort from top to bottom. Feel free to get creative with alternative ways of interacting with your participant!

4. Set up the Right Tools

This depends on the mode of the interview; offline or online interview. But since it’s the pandemic, let’s conduct it online. In principle, we’ll need a tool to converse with the participants, note taking, displaying stimuli, and recording. My usual set up is quite simple:

  • Conversing with participant: Google Meet
  • Note taking: Google Docs
  • Displaying stimuli: depending on the stimuli, but for prototypes I use Figma
  • Recording: Quicktime screen recording (I can record the audio from my laptop’s speaker but I won’t be able to do it with my earphones on)

There are more integrated tools available online, such as Userzoom and Userlytics that you should definitely give a try. But so far, the above is enough for manual, cost-free, remote IDI.

5. Invite Stakeholders

So, up to this point everything is checked and ready to go, and it should. However to top everything off, we might want to consider inviting our PMs, Engineers, and BDs to our interview session. Be it a mandatory invite or an optional one, inviting stakeholders help keep the UX spirit alive in a product team. It is at the heart of what being “user-centric” means, literally product and engineers sit around the user, listening to what they have to say. Actually, if you feel like UX is being overlooked in your company, doing this could be the first step to help you get a buy-in.

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