I had a great talk the other night with a classmate of mine from graduate school, who focused on usability and now works on a web application development team as their user experience designer. He’s Tim Keirnan, and I asked him to explain some of his interview techniques that he uses for his Design Critique podcast. I also got great snippets about his user interviews.
I just marveled at how dedicated he is at getting user information, no matter what the situation. Just acquired a company in an eastern European country? No worries, set up a remote meeting where you can view the user’s desktop. Think your users don’t know what they need in their daily workflow? Ask the right questions with the right context and you’re halfway there at least.
- Don’t ask people to project into the future. For example, asking “What will you do with the Intranet tomorrow?” sound ridiculous if you phrase it that way. Instead, ask about today, this week, this month.
- Don’t ask them anything without having artifacts in front of them to spur discussion, even if you have to use Webex because you can’t travel to their office.
- Do ask users about their daily work.
- Do ask about their last mistake and what they think they could have done to prevent it.
These are just a few notes I jotted down after talking to him. Since most “interview techniques” posts are about job interviews, I wanted to find more user interview techniques. There are eight articles about conducting usability interviews collected on the EServer TC Library. One essay titled Nondirected Interviews: How to Get More Out of Your Research Questions on Adaptive Path says to concentrate on immediate experiences, which really hit home with me. At SXSW Interactive, much ado was made about context. And context in interviews – both time and place – can make or break the value of the user research.
I ponder this idea of context as I search for user data on the social web. Perhaps the loudest users are on social media but not a good representative of true users, depending on the product. I’m thinking of the information you can get about job titles, job descriptions, tools used, and so on from a site like LinkedIn or Indeed.com. I described finding your user’s vocabulary previously in a blog post last year. What do you think? Should you emphasize and use the online personas you can build from social media sites, or call that publicly-available information suspect and marginal?