Usability is a primary concern for any web design project. Aesthetics are important and content is king, but if your interface is irritating or difficult to navigate it’s game over for most users. Fortunately, usability is often very intuitive. You can go through your own navigation flows and find many bugs yourself. However, there is a good chance that you’re too close to your own website to see the flaws. Not seeing the trees for the forest, so to speak.
That’s where UX research comes into play. Now there are tons of different UX research methods to consider. Surveys are easy to administer and they yield a broad array of general data. Unfortunately, they don’t really offer any deep insights. And rich data about your design is important.
You have to understand how your users interact with your design on an intimate level. If you don’t, then you may end up missing important problems with your design. Or worse, solve problems that don’t really exist. In any case, robust information about the ways your users interact with your designs are important so that you can create something useful.
In order to get that kind of data, you have to conduct user interviews. Which begs the question: where do you even start?
Of course, that’s what we’ll be discussing today. It begins with finding someone who’s willing to give you a moment of their time.
Right, so where do you find your helpful interviewees? You have several options:
- Coffee shops- This is a surprisingly effective tactic. You can simply enter into a coffee shop and ask people if they’re interested in taking part in a study to help you improve your website. You can incentivize them by offering to buy them a cup of coffee, or just rely on the kindness of strangers.
- Asking your network- It’s good to know people, they can help you out with exactly this kind of tricky situation. Reach out to your friends and family. Sure it’ll be biased, but any feedback is better than none.
- Social networks/forums- Social media can be a fantastic place to find potential participants. Both for more general research and finding interviewees. Just put out an ad amongst your friends or followers and see who’s interested.
- Craigslist/gumtree ads- Online classifieds are another great place to find a spectacularly random sampling of users.
Alternatively, you can hire a firm, such as User Insights, to do this for you. Larger clients can sometimes (perhaps even often) hire these firms to check any UX research that you would present to them, just to see if you know what you’re talking about.
As for the number of people you want to interview goes, a good rule of thumb is that 5 people or less will help you identify prominent patterns. Ten or more would be useful for finding where the outliers are, and how they’re likely to behave on your site.
Make sure you always screen your potential interviewees. A simple questionnaire can help this immensely. It will provide you with an idea of who your individual user is, whether or not they belong to your target market, and if they’ll be a good fit for your research.
Conducting the Interview
Being on either side of the interview process can be an intimidating process to the uninitiated. So it’s nice if you can catch the user in a comfortable state. For this reason, virtual or phone interviews can be both cost effective and more comfortable. It’s also easier to record interviews in these formats. But it’s important to note that you should always ask for permission to record.
Next keep things friendly. You have to walk a line between formal and casual that can be kind of tricky. Too formal and your users will clam up. Too casual and you can go way off the rails in a hurry. The trick is to know your interviewee. Use whatever information you can gather from the questionnaire or their online social media profiles. Leverage this knowledge to determine how they’ll relate to your questioning.
Next is establishing a rapport. This will take a little bit of time and congeniality. Start an interview by explaining in direct conversational language the purpose of the interview, what kind of questions you’ll ask, and how you plan to use their answers. You can also use the information that you’ve learned about them from the questionnaire to think of questions uniquely suited to each individual.
How to ask questions:
Perhaps counterintuitively, you want to shy away from a leading questions. You want to find insights rather than guide the interview to a preferred conclusion. Start with broad questions which can be generally interpreted, and then chisel down to specifics. A few general tips:
- Be wary of “priming” or leading the interviewee toward an answer you already have in mind
- Don’t generalize
- Be careful of your body language and pay attention to theirs
- Never ask about intention always probe behavior, for example: “How long do you want to spend on the site?” this is a bad question. “How long did you spend on the site?” this is a good question.
- Focus on specific instances: “how did you feel when ___ happened?”
- Keep them talking by using statements like:
- Tell me more about that
- What do you mean by…
- Help me understand better…
- Don’t put words in their mouths, avoid interpreting their answers or paraphrasing their words back to them
The trick is to allow people to speak. That means leaving a space for silence, both after you ask a question and after you think they’ve finished their answer. You can always ask them to elaborate it they start to go silent. Silence is uncomfortable, they’ll either fill it or let you know that they’re done speaking about the topic.
It’s always good to take notes during an interview, but you should still remain attentive to the interviewee. Don’t spend extended periods of time staring down at your notebook. As suggested above, you should always record these interviews if possible, and then refer back to them later in order to take more robust notes.
It can also help to have a few observers taking notes while you’re conducting the interview. Just try not to make the interviewee feel uncomfortable or judged while the two of you are talking. If it’s a virtual interview, you can have a colleague listen in discreetly.
Conversation not Interrogation
The final thing to remember is that you’re trying to speak honestly with your participant, not give him or her the fifth degree. Have a list of questions, but don’t be afraid to let the natural flow of conversation take its course.
In fact, only refer back to your list if the conversation starts to stall. Rely instead upon the topic itself to help you engage the participant in a dialogue. If you fall too far afield of your intended topic, you can either divert them back toward something useful, or stay silent until they run out of steam and ask another question.
In general however, you should leave the ball in their court. They aren’t here to hear you talk, it’s the other way around. Give them a jump off point and let them expound. If you get off the beaten path then nudge them back toward what you want to know, but don’t ever dominate the conversation.
After it’s over, be sure to thank the participant for their time and begin debriefing with your colleagues or teammates as the case may be. Compare notes, review the recording, and try to hammer down what valuable insights you gained from the exchange.
All that’s left is finding out how you can use these to make your design more effective.
This post was contributed by our friends and fellow Austinites Complete Web Resources, a digital marketing and advertising agency focused on helping small businesses improve their visibility on the web.