Principles of Great UX Design: Research Interviews

For companies looking to capitalize on truly knowing their audience, which is a necessary component of customer engagement, the benefits of conducting UX Research interviews are significant. We view everything through the lens of unlocking and activating human behavior, and UX Research interviews represent “unlocking” capabilities. Insights from studies usually lead to key strategic recommendations, which can enhance usability and boost conversion rates, for instance.

One of the most common hurdles to facilitating effective usability study interviews is that they’re not based on natural interactions. As UX technologists, our goal is to learn what users do and why, so we can improve the usability of interfaces, but the lack of normalcy during interview sessions inhibits users’ natural responses and behaviors. How often do people shop online in front of two-way mirrors, filmed from five camera angles, sitting with you (probably a stranger), as you repeatedly ask for ‘feedback’? How can we make this work?

Listed below are four ideas I’ve had success with and should be kept in mind as the interviewer.

Allow Space for Play

The word ‘play’ may sound a bit hokey, but it’s a key point in the process. ‘Play’ doesn’t always mean a little kid playing games. It’s about comfort, playfulness and ease of use for the user. Think about surfing the web. I tend to play around when surfing, and it’s important to maintain that same mindset for users in a testing environment.

We’ve found that it’s helpful to explain to users that they are not in the hot seat, as it were. We present them with a welcome screen when they sit down and express the following messaging before and during the interview:

  • This is not a test.  Or at least, we are not testing you, so you can’t make any mistakes.
  • We didn’t design what we’re testing, so you can’t offend us. We want to know how you feel about it, good or bad.
  • Make yourself comfortable. If you need a break, let us know.
  • Speak your thoughts aloud.  Again, we want to know how you feel, so we appreciate your help talking us through what you’re doing. The facilitator may ask you to do so throughout the session.

Allowing space for play also means simply allowing space. It may feel awkward at first, but it’s important to remain silent for periods while the participant works through their thoughts and questions. However, as the interviewer, you may need to remind them periodically to speak their thoughts aloud.

Provide a Realistic, Simple Scenario

Usually, the first portion of an interview is a conversation. Questions asked during this time provide not only an opportunity to gather specifics about the user’s habits and past experiences, but also gives them context. This is the start of building the scenario for them.

The bulk of the session is the process of working through one or more scenarios, which should be tailored to the user’s perspective. Scenarios should be realistic and simple, so they’re easy to communicate. Sometimes tasks are necessarily complex, but every effort should go into simplifying the scenario as much as possible.

Let the User Lead

Simply put – you are not the leader in this dance, the user is. You need to know what they’re going through, not how you can teach them to use the interface. Don’t get me wrong, this is not easy. As the interviewer, you likely want to be helpful by prompting the user, and it’s harder than anything not to. This goes directly into the next point about users asking you questions.

Be the Volleying Board

What’s a volleying board?  It’s a tennis thing, and always my favorite opponent, which says something about my skills.

Volley Board


They’ll ask you questions. Users, some more than others, will try to put the ball in your court by asking questions more than once per session, if not a thousand times. Like fingerprints and snowflakes, each user is unique, and you will find yourself tricked into leading them by the way you respond to questions.

A volleying board is friendly! You’re not being rude. Here are a few sample question and answer techniques on how to be a volleying board.

  • Repeat:
    • User – “This is weird, um, I’m not sure, well?”
    • You – “This is weird? Not sure about what?”
  • Ask Them:
    • User – “Do I have to sign in to get this?”
    • You – “What would you do if I wasn’t here?” or “What do you think?”
  • Trail Off:
    • User – “Do I have to save before leaving the page?”
    • You – “You were asking about…?” or “Save before…?”

In Short…

UX interviews help unlock insights that lead to activating customer (user) engagement. That’s fancy-talk for; you can learn about your users, and make changes based on that learning. The only way to truly get something out of interviews is to fully consider the user (customer) by utilizing the techniques above.

Give it a try! Make the user comfy, give them realistic scenarios, let them lead, and be the volleying board! It’s proven that when usability improves, conversion rates rise, and even deceivingly simple interface changes can lead to huge conversion lifts (and happier users).

By Kyle Curley, Senior Associate, User Research

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