Good user input may seem a bit like a magical, mythical beast at times, but it is a very real and realizable goal. That said, the path to it passes through a minefield of miscommunication, misunderstanding, and unintended biases in thinking. But we can effectively navigate this with a human-centered approach and it is worth the trip, because the results can be nigh magical for your product and your users.
A powerful tool in our toolbox is the interview.
Keep in Mind That Users Are Human
Our users are human beings and while humans are wonderful creatures, people have some issues when it comes to objectivity, memory, and perception. These stem from traits that help us survive and I think we would all agree that not getting eaten by a lion or bear trumps making a killer app. The good news is that we have some idea what these traits are, so we can account for them and plan accordingly.
- The capacity to infer information can lead to false memories and mistaken understandings
- There is often a disconnect in what a person says/thinks they will do and what they will actually do
- Your user's energy and interest will wane over time
- What you say or do can bias the feedback you receive
This may seem daunting, but we can manage all of these concerns. It's vital that we keep these in our mind as we prepare and execute our interview.
Users Are Not Designers
A designer is trained and experienced in extrapolation, prediction, and imagination of a new product. Typically, your user is not. As such, it can be counterproductive to engage them in that way.
It also shifts one's thought processes. Asking someone to design or create your product engages their brain in a very different way and can quickly derail good feedback. Now, if you are familiar with design thinking, you might be puzzled by this notion because user feedback in prototyping and iteration is vital. Well, they are not mutually exclusive ideas.
For example, let's take the example of creating an application for an online store. It would be appropriate to ask a user to discuss an especially good online purchasing experience for that kind of product. But asking them if a choice should be a drop down window or a picker wheel derails the user's thought processes into a different mindset and away from the core issues of determining their needs and goals.
Even if they are trained designers, this shift in perspective reduces the quality of the user input.
There are a lot of opinions and suggestions on this, but here are some of key considerations that I find especially useful.
Provide a good space for discussion. You may have little control over where an interview happens, but it is good to strive for some basics. The goal is to enable you and the user to focus as much of your attention on the discussion as possible
- Comfortable - Comfortable chair, convenient writing surface, climate control
- Minimal distractions - especially visible and audible distractions
- Ability to scribble - paper, whiteboard, etc.
- Dedicated note taker - if possible a second designer to take notes so you can focus on good communication and minimal interruption
Strive to solicit user feedback in a real-time, face-to-face, interactive discussion. If face-to-face is not possible, then I would opt for a video conference a phone call. Body language, inflection, and tone provide crucial context. Being able to see or hear a person gives you a great deal more information and the ability to adapt the discussion on the fly is priceless. If you are at a prototyping phase and having the customer interact with the product, this is even more important.
Focus on the what, not the how. When engaging your users, the focus should be on what they are trying to achieve with your product, not their opinions on the technical implementation. If the discussion starts to dip into discussions of specific implementation features, redirect the discussion towards the goal.
- Good: "The last time you purchased shoes online, what were the main factors you considered in your selection?"
- Bad: "How should we filter the search results when you look for shoes?"
Keep your script/questions short and focused. The goal is to get good feedback from the users. To achieve that, they should be the ones talking most of the time, not you. Also, the more you talk, the more you risk 1) leading/biasing their responses and 2) wearing them out and reducing the quality of their feedback.
- Plan to keep the discussion to one hour or less; you can always extend if the energy is there
- Schedule most of the time for discussion; if you time yourself reading your script/questions, it should take no more than ten minutes for a 60 minute discussion
- Be wary of overly speculative/leading questions
Try not to force users to create opinions; look for the ones they offer up. If you ask broad questions that solicit an opinion, you are encouraging someone to craft an opinion. The key dangers inherent in that are that 1) the topic may not be important to them or 2) you inject your own biases into their thought process.
- Good: "You mentioned that this screen hurt your eyes, can you elaborate on that?"
- Bad: "What do you think of the layout and color palette?"
- Good: "You mentioned this was clunky; what about it did you find clunky?"
- Bad: "What do you think of this drop down list?"
Ultimately, it's not rocket science, but it can be surprisingly easy to get off track and turn a useful interview into a waste of everyone's time. What works best for you will vary from case to case, but if you keep these overarching concepts in mind, you should be off to a good start.