An interview is a structured research activity where a researcher asks questions of an individual in order to learn about a new design space, or gain clarification about existing knowledge. A researcher will devise a set of quantitative and qualitative questions which are asked to participants ideally in a controlled environment. There are variations in the format and type, and researchers may vary the tools (oral answers to questions, written surveys, Likert scale vs. open-ended, quantified data versus qualitative data) depending on the research objectives and the person being interviewed. Interview transcripts can be generated and analyzed afterwards to make meaning and inform design interventions. The total number of interviews can vary (see ‘How many qualitative interviews is enough?’ for in-depth discussion), as can the type - Robert Wood Johnson Foundation categorizes them as structured, semi-structured, unstructured, informal and focus groups; Dr. Mary Stokrocki at ASU categorizes them by ‘topical oral history, life history, evaluation interview, focus group interview, and cultural interviews’). Rubin and Rubin have variations on how they interview (i.e. ‘responsive interviewing’ or changing questions in response to the interview rather than having a set of questions you stick closely to). Regardless of format and variety, interviews remain a key research activity for creating people-centered design work.
- Understand problem space and your goals, hypothesis and interview constraints (location, time, audience, etc.) – these all shape your interview questions
- Arrange interviews/misc. logistics, conduct dry run of questions for timing release forms or non-disclosure agreements
- Create questions to ask and create a Field Guide/Interview Guide:
- Introduction, goals
- Biological section about your interviewee
- ‘Main’ content section with your questions
- Additional questions if time
- Conduct interviews: capture biological info and main questions, and follow up from asked questions to deep dive into interesting points
- Review results and analyze what to to take from the interviews and next steps
- Ability to create questions to audience: Direct human feedback with users/direct customers allows us to gather data from the people using products and services – not external stakeholders
- Opportunity for deep dive and follow up questions: Interviews allows for human behavior to shine - what are emotions and actions during an interview that shed light on how people use products and services – and the ability to follow up with questions in situ, at the time. The richness of qualitative data is usually extremely valuable.
- Opportunity for customization on length, tools, depth of questions: Not only can you customize the questions, but you can explore both high level areas of a situation as well as details on artifacts, context, environment, etc. of individual users.
- Bias from self reporting: what should we understand from what we hear in interviews - can we trust someone to self report what they do, as opposed to viewing behavior?
- Words and not necessarily actions and behaviors (compared to contextual inquiry): •We’re also asking people to report on their behavior often without watching them in context – so they may self report an inaccuracy, and we as researchers may not know. This is why it’s important to interview at least 5-7 so see if something shows up by multiple persons.
- Requires transcription and additional analysis from words (as opposed to data): managing the quantity of data can be overwhelming if interviewing large sets of users
Reframer is software to make the user research process easier.
If you record your interviews, you can get transcripts from companies like Verbalink - but still no replacement for going through pages of material to make meaning. See longer discussion on IxDA forum.
- Roles: It’s good to have one dedicated question asker and one dedicated note taker. Sometimes you can switch roles, so be adaptable to suit the flow of the interview and follow up with questions if someone is providing interesting feedback. Make sure the other interviewer is open to that – if they have questions they really want answered, have those be first or indicated on your list of questions.
- Flexibility: Not all interviews will cover all topics. You may need to skip questions if it doesn’t apply to them (i.e. they don’t have experience with a product etc.). Ideally screen those people out of interviews first though.
- Technology: Audio recorders are good as a backup - even better, video. Still, don’t rely solely on technology to capture data. Take notes (both dedicated note taker, and the question asker). Time: Do a rehearsal of your questions to ensure you leave enough time for both asking and responses, and natural ‘lulls’ in the conversation and longer responses.
- Artifacts: ‘Interviews can be made more productive when based around artifacts, the inspiration behind integrated methods such as touchstone tours, personal inventories, and picture cards” (from Universal Methods of Design). Having a product to interact with can help a user reveal more details - especially if the user is shy or has never experienced an interview before.
- Environment: Interviewing in the field can become difficult in an environment of noise, stress, time limitations and sometimes hostility from interviews can complicate our design research efforts. Aim for a quiet, uninterrupted environment to ask your questions.
Kuniavsky, Mike. Observing the User Experience : A Practitioner’s Guide to User Research. Burlington, MA, USA: Morgan Kaufmann, 2003. Accessed September 17, 2015. ProQuest ebrary. https://getit.library.nyu.edu/go/9387114
Although there’s a small amount devoted to interviews, this book does go into common problems that occur in interviews and approaches to use to avoid them and address them when they happen in interviews.
Portigal, Steve. Interviewing Users: How to Uncover Compelling Insights. New York, NY, USA: Rosenfeld Media, 2013.
Geared for UX and product design work, this short book contains very practical advice for both beginners and more experienced practitioners, and also addresses the entire process from start to finish from an ethnographic point of view.
Rubin Herbert J. Qualitative interviewing: the art of hearing data. Los Angeles, CA, USA: SAGE Publishing, 2012. Accessed September 17, 2015. ProQuest ebrary. https://getit.library.nyu.edu/go/9387294
A classic ethnographic research book, this is an excellent book for a more in-depth understanding about what kind of questions to ask and how to make meaningful analysis especially for longer research projects and professional work. The book comes more from a social sciences perspective.
Vogt, W. Paul, Gardner, Dianne C., and Haeffele, Lynne M.. 2012. When to Use What Research Design. New York, NY, USA: Guilford Press. Accessed September 17, 2015. ProQuest ebrary https://getit.library.nyu.edu/go/9387118
Another title geared for more advanced practioners with more of a social sciences perspective, the section on surveys versus interviews is illuminating, as is the sections on recruiting for interviews and what types of questions to ask.