Preparation Is the Key to Great User Interviews

User Research Preparation

User interviews are an integral part of the UX process and are an incredibly valuable way to better understand how your users interact with your product. However, user interviews can be complex, and it’s well worth it to put in the prep work necessary to make them successful. 

Seventy to eighty percent of the work it takes to complete user research happens during the preparation phase. While it might be tempting to skip steps in this process and get straight to the research, you’ll regret it if you do. In fact, it’s fair to say that your research results will only be as good as your preparation.

Here are several things to consider during the preparation phase that will help ensure your research generates deep and interesting insights.

Determining Who Will Perform the Research

Companies that truly value insights have either a robust in-house research team or they hire an outside firm that specializes in research. In any case, it’s essential that the people conducting the research have no bias or interest in producing one outcome or another. And while it’s imperative that product managers and other stakeholders collaborate with researchers during the planning process, they should not be the ones performing the research. 

Advantages of hiring an outside agency are a higher likelihood of gaining company-wide trust in the role and the research, and that agencies are inherently independent and provide fresh perspectives.

Sourcing & Scheduling Participants

Recruiting the ideal participants for your research can be challenging, but implementing tried-and-true sourcing methods will make the process go more smoothly. Here are the general steps we follow at Tetra:

  1. Create a participant profile that you will use to identify ideal participants.
  2. Determine if such people will have access to the technology you plan to use and/or access to the physical research site.
  3. Determine who is doing the recruiting (in-house or using a service).
  4. Determine your budget and plan for incentives. The appropriate incentive depends on the scope of the research and time investment for participants, but it generally ranges from $25 to several hundred dollars. 
  5. Screen potential participants with a survey to ensure they meet your participant profile.
  6. Conduct an additional phone screen with the candidates you have identified as promising. This step is crucial, as you want to ensure your participants can clearly explain their thoughts and answer your questions. 

Throughout the sourcing process, remember that great qualitative research can often be reduced to just one incredible finding that comes from one user who was able to articulate something that nobody else could. 

Writing Better Interview Questions

Put simply, the better your interview questions are, the better your research outcomes will be. Let’s take a look at some best practices.

Before you begin, it’s a good idea to interview stakeholders—including company leaders and product managers— to see what insights they are looking for. This helps you get buy-in for your research from the very beginning. 

When writing questions, perhaps the most important thing to keep in mind is to ask open-ended questions and allow for the conversation to travel along interesting tangents. Inexperienced interviewers often stick to the script and only ask pre-defined questions. However, great interviews often contain offshoots that provide important insights that you weren’t necessarily looking for. Good interviewers can discern when it is a better use of time to follow tangents and when it’s better to guide the conversation back to the plan. 

Stay away from hypothetical questions as well. For example, you don’t want to ask if a user would like to see a particular feature, but rather ask if any features appear to be missing or if the user would like to be able to perform an action that isn’t currently available. 

Lastly, keep interview questions simple and only ask one at a time. When you “stack” questions, your interviewee can become overwhelmed or confused, resulting in jumbled or incomplete responses. 

In Conclusion

Spending time preparing in advance for conducting research is an invaluable exercise. And, of course, researchers are always learning and improving their craft over time. Research needs to be a process, not a project. It needs to be done continuously, giving you time to iterate and always improving your preparation process. 

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