Challenges in User Interviews
Conducting user interviews are one of the most common methods used during the research process. And although there are plenty of techniques to ensure your interview session runs smoothly, there may be unforeseen and uncontrollable challenges that arise. In this blog, I’ve collected some challenges from my own experience as a UX Designer that may be worth discussing.
What if interviewees start speaking about other people's experiences?
The purpose of conducting an interview is to learn about the interviewees. During the interview, when you ask them a question regarding their experience of something, you may find that they may start speaking about someone else’s experience instead of their own.
This is what you must be careful with as this information isn’t the direct and personal experience we aim to gain and learn about. This can happen as a result of two factors: the interviewee may have very little to no knowledge regarding the topic of the question asked, or they may have never experienced a scenario you may be asking about.
This then leads them to try to answer the question from what they have heard or seen from others. A key way to identify whether or not your interviewee is speaking about other people’s experiences is if they start mentioning “other people did…” or “I see people do…”.
When that happens it may be tempting to stop them, but let them finish. There may be some interesting insights that arise that you can further delve into with them. Otherwise, you may interrupt them politely by repeating the question but emphasizing the interest you have in their own experiences. A question like “How did you do it?” or “How would you do it?” may help. Remind them that it is alright if they don’t know the answer or have little experience, and make sure you don’t sound rude. Remember that you are having a conversation with someone, not interrogating them.
What if interviewees don’t talk much?
Some people may find it hard to open up when talking to strangers for the first time. There are several ways to go about this issue. It could start by welcoming an interviewee when they arrive by greeting them, offering some drinks, or just having some casual conversations, which may help comfort them and help them relax. Before going straight into the interview questions, asking some warm-up questions could be helpful too.
During the interview, if they don’t speak much, you may need to add more effort to comfort and encourage the interviewees. It is totally normal for them to have paused before answering, don’t rush. If you run out of time, cut it short, and don’t put words in their mouths.
What if interviewees wander off the topic?
Despite having similar experiences, different people will always have differing stories. Don’t take it for granted. The point of a user interview is to learn about people’s stories and experiences, and one way to learn is to listen actively and carefully because they are the experts of their own experiences. So let them answer freely, you may be surprised at the stories and insights they provide.
However, sometimes it is the question itself that confuses the users, and therefore leads them off-topic. Perhaps you can politely stop them and further explain your question some more – but be careful not to lead their answers.
A way to prevent this is to do a pilot test or test run the interview with a couple of people so your questionnaire can be reviewed and you can estimate how long it will take to complete. You may also find some questions are repetitive and can be combined or removed.
User interviews are a work of art
One may say that an interview is just a work of art. There are many details and ways to master it. I would say the more you do the better you get. Mostly it is about solving unexpected problems, handling a conversation, and dealing with people professionally. Just be mindful when you are listening and speaking. Eventually, you will develop your own style.
Here is another article by Mária Ilona Horváth about user interview that covers planning, conducting to summarising data.
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